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Wisconsin health officials urge vaccinations, precautions

20December 2021

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin health officials and Gov. Tony Evers on Monday urged residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and take other precautions, such as wearing masks and keeping holiday gatherings small, as the new omicron variant is expected to create a surge in cases over the coming weeks.

Also Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the mask mandate in place in Dane County. The decision to take the case came just after the county health department announced it would be extended into February.

The court’s ruling, which is unlikely before summer, would have implications on any orders other counties or local governments may want to put in place. The court this year struck down Evers’ statewide mask mandate.

Evers joined with health officials Monday in urging people to take action in the face of the omicron variant.

“I urge every Wisconsinite to take immediate action and get the COVID-19 vaccine and your booster dose if you haven’t received it already — this is critically important for mitigating surges in hospitalizations and deaths across our state,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

The highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 is expected to cause a “rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks,” the state Department of Health Services said in issuing a public health advisory.

“There is a serious risk that continued, increased numbers of COVID-19 cases will overwhelm an already strained health care system, leading to dangerous situations where patients experiencing medical emergencies may not be able to receive immediate, adequate, life-saving attention and care due to lack of hospital capacity,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a chief medical officer with the state health department, said in a public health advisory.

Westergaard urged everyone who can to get vaccinated, including booster shots for those eligible. COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and death from the delta variant, which still accounts for the vast majority of cases, he said. Fully boosted people are protected against serious illness and hospitalization from omicron, which is starting to circulate more widely.

Masks should be worn indoors when with others outside people’s households, and holiday gatherings should be small, Westergaard said. People with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure should get tested.

COVID-19 activity is critically high in 40 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and very high in the rest, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Statewide, just over 61% of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 587% are fully vaccinated. Multiple cases of the omicron variant have been found.

As of Monday, 1,660 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 424 in intensive care, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association

The lawsuit the Supreme Court agreed to hear was brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on behalf of two Dane County residents. The court in November 2020 refused to hear it before it worked through the circuit courts first. It agreed to take it Monday after a Dane County judge threw the case out and the plaintiffs asked the court to take it without having to go through the appeals court first.

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