There were more cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County over the first few days of the new year than any other time in the last year, according to local health officials.

The New Year’s celebration weekend brought a spike in cases in the county that now is listed as critically high for the virus. This comes at a time when Wisconsin also hit a milestone of cases, topping 1 million confirmed ones.

The seven-day average of cases in Jefferson County surged to 84 cases a day, per 100,000 people. That is more than double the amount on certain days the week prior.

“For those who are at high-risk, it is critical to get your vaccine or booster dose and wear a high-efficiency mask (N95 or similar). We recommend that all individuals wear a mask in public places. And we continue to ask that folks stay home when they are ill, or when they believe they may have COVID-19,” said Samroz Jakvani, epidemiologist for the Jefferson County Health Department.

The surrounding counties of Dane, Rock and Dodge also have reached that critical level as cases hit 3,883 in a single day in the state as the omicron variant takes hold. That's down from almost 7,000 a day, but it also was over the weekend.

There have been 13,286 people in the county who have had the virus since the start of the pandemic. In Dodge County, 18,434 people have had the virus.

For those getting the virus, 37% are under the age of 30, with 20-year-olds accounting for 17.1% of all cases.

“COVID has increased our admissions by about 30-50%,” said Nicole Leibman, marketing manager at Fort HealthCare. “In addition, patients admitted with COVID are generally more acutely ill requiring more resources per patient than an average admission.

“We are still asking for help of the community to get vaccinated, get booster doses, mask up and social distance to help us in making sure that we can continue to meet all the health needs of the community,” she added.

Also on Monday, Milwaukee Public Schools announced they will transition to virtual instruction beginning Tuesday because of an increase in staff testing positive for COVID.

"MPS was scheduled to resume in-person learning on Jan. 4, 2022, but due to an influx of reported positive COVID-19 cases among district staff, this emergency safety measure is being implemented," the district said in a statement.

The district says its goal is to return to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 10.

In Dane County, 4,166 people tested positive for the virus over the holiday weekend, an increase of 71%, according to local health officials.

The Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 3 also expanded booster shots allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.

Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older.

The FDA also said everyone 12 and older who's eligible for a Pfizer booster can get one as early as five months after their last dose rather than six months.

As for people who originally got the single-dose J&J shot, the U.S. already recommends another dose of any vaccine two months later.

Another issue in the county is finding an at-home test.

The Lake Mills Walgreens was out of at-home tests Monday morning, but a representative said the item is typically in-stock locally.

The Walgreens employee said there has been high demand for the tests, with some people calling before going to the store to ensure the at-home tests are in stock.

The representative said at-home tests have been selling at a steady pace. The individual said the limit on the number of tests a person can buy at once has been helpful in ensuring there are tests available.

Last month, Walgreens limited customers to four boxes of at-home COVID-19 tests per purchase in store and online. CVS set the limit to six kits per purchase.

In-person testing sites have also seen rises in the number of people wanting to see if they had the virus.

The Jefferson County Health Department has seen a substantial increase in people getting tested at its Johnson Creek site in the past month. Jakvani said since late November there has been a relative increase in the number of weekly tests.

“We saw an average of 90 tests per day in November, and more than a 12% increase in December,” he said.

Typically, the Johnson Creek location has seen 30 to 60 people being tested per day; it has the capacity to test 200 to 300 people daily. The epidemiologist said the wait time at the JCHD test site is 30 minutes or less.

Jakvani has heard of some people needing to wait in line to get tested at other locations in the county due to the holiday weekend but otherwise he does not know of any long wait times.

“Nationally, there is very low availability for testing. This is a testament to how many cases there are, given how many testing sites/entities there are,” he said.

Jakvani expects the number of people looking to get tested to continue to remain high in the coming weeks. He believes it will not only be due to people who want to be tested after attending large gatherings, but “due to the high rate of viral spread which was in play prior to the holidays and exacerbated by it.”

Based on data, Jakvani said the number of people who are vaccinated who are choosing to get tested is inconsistent regarding the ratio of vaccinated individuals getting tested.

“What is clear is that those who are not vaccinated are testing positive more frequently. We also see this across Wisconsin - fully vaccinated persons are five times less likely to test positive. That is likely to change with Omicron, but how much remains to be seen,” he said.

The JCHD lists several locations providing in-person testing. Hometown Pharmacy Watertown is one of the sites offering both PCR and rapid tests.

“The number of tests we are performing has gone up exponentially in the last two weeks,” said pharmacist Jason Schwager. “We actually performed more tests in one day (last) week than we did in the entire week three weeks ago.”

The pharmacy allows walk-ins for the PCR tests and rapid tests are by appointment only, but Schwager said Hometown Pharmacy Watertown is typically able to get people in for same-day appointments.

“People have been very grateful that we are offering this service,” he said.

Jakvani said he personally understands the frustration of not being able to purchase an at-home test in stores or having difficulties getting an in-person appointment set. But, if a person cannot find a test on the same day they need it, the person should be able to find one in a day or so.

“If folks can’t find an appointment, find a walk-in testing site (Johnson Creek Outlet Mall has a drive up, no appointment testing site). Or, make an appointment to get tested as soon as you can close to Day 5 of exposure, or as soon as you experience symptoms,” he said.

- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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