Will Flanders, Ph.D.
Research Director, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
Across the nation, there is growing momentum behind bringing back COVID-19 restrictions. Recently, the CDC updated it’s guidance to say that even those who have been vaccinated should wear masks in areas where transmission is high. In Milwaukee, the school district has already decided that masking will be required for students in the Fall, while the mayor has recommended that everyone begin wearing masks again indoors. As we move towards a Fall that will no doubt be filled with breathless media reports about rising COVID-19 rates, it’s important that we keep in mind how dramatically things have improved from the height of the pandemic. Here, I address two growing misconceptions about the pandemic.
Rates of COVID-19 in Wisconsin Remain Down
Worldometers has been providing useful data about the state of the pandemic around the world since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 early last year. Below, I reproduce their chart of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin over time. The bars represent the daily case counts, while the blue line traces the seven day rolling average of cases.
At the height of transmission in November, Wisconsin was averaging more than 7,000 cases per day. As of July 28th, the state is averaging about 558 cases per day–a drop of more than 92%. Of course, cases have trended up in recent days. But while a 111% increase over the last two weeks is concerning, it is important to keep in mind that this represents an increase from 264 cases averaged over 7 days to 558 averaged over 7 days. And deaths in Wisconsin remain near 0. Since July 17th when 2 deaths were reported, Wisconsin has not seen a day with more than a single death, and several days with zero deaths.
Hospitalizations have not returned to the levels of earlier in the pandemic either. The 7-day rolling average of hospitalizations currently stands at 171 compared to more than 2,000 at the height of the pandemic in November. The graph below illustrates how hospitalizations have fallen over time. Vaccination rates even at around 50% of the population mean that we’re unlikely to return to the levels of cases, hospitalizations, or deaths seen earlier in the pandemic short of dramatic evolution of the virus.
Children Remain at Low Risk
Because children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, it might make sense to put some restrictions–like masking requirements–in place if there was evidence that the virus presented a significant danger to children. But this is no more true today than it was six months ago when schools were closed despite little scientific support for it.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, of the more than 7,400 people who have passed away as a result of COVID-19 during the pandemic, 3 (.0004%) were between the ages of 10 and 19. 0 deaths have been recorded among children under 10. This is not a Wisconsin specific phenomenon. A recent study in the Lancet–a premier epidemiological journal–found that children’s risk of death from the virus remains extremely low. This appears to hold even for the “Delta” variant. Some might say that masking is required to protect teachers and other adults in the school, but these individuals, of course, have had the ability to get vaccinated for months.
Of course, things could change. Yet another new variant could emerge that both spreads rapidly and has a high mortality rate. But we are not yet in those times. Going back to any sort of restrictions on public life at this point represents less a response to public health needs and more a response to public panic fomented in the crucible of the 24-hour news cycle.