Covid-19 cases, deaths on the decline in long term care facilities across Wisconsin

Nancy Mueller, 91, took her time in the sun Friday afternoon when stepping outside for an interview. Hailing originally from New York but a transplant to Wisconsin when her husband’s job took her to the Oscar Mayer plant years ago, she’s relied on a strong sense of humor to get her through the last year of Covid-19.

“Keep a sense of humor,” she mused. “It sounds weird, but it helps.”

She’s not wrong. Her approach to getting her first dose of the vaccine was practical. She’s had a lot of shots in her day, and this was just another one–one that would put her a step closer to seeing her family without a window between them again. But she’s cautious about the side effects after the second dose.

Living at Wickshire Senior Living in Madison, the facility hasn’t had a Covid-19 case since late November, executive director Sira Nsibirwa said. Both he and Nancy attribute that to their hard-working staff who have made a lot of sacrifices to get their residents through the pandemic safely. Now, every single resident and all but one of the 21 staffers have gotten their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and they’ll complete the two-dose regimen next week. They’ve already started implementing some small, cautious changes; soon, they’re hoping for something close to normal.

“At the beginning we had a really nice celebration, had snacks for all residents,” Nsibirwa said.

For the first time since much earlier on in the pandemic, state officials said Thursday that the state has no new outbreak investigations scheduled for the coming week.

“We’ve seen good results with the vaccine,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said in a press conference. “We’ve seen reductions in cases in long term care facilities who have been vaccinated for the longest period of time.”

Covid-19 cases and deaths have been on the decline across the state since shortly before the vaccine, but the drop off has been significant for facilities with vaccinated populations. It’s paralleled by virus activity finally reaching low levels in some counties across Wisconsin after remaining high or critically high in nearly every county of the state throughout the winter.

However, a marginal increase in the last few days has some concerned.

“As concerning as little upticks in cases are, we’re also seeing some good trends,” Willems Van Dijk said.

Nearly 18% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and the number of long term care staffers opting into getting the vaccine is rising, according to Leading Age Wisconsin’s president John Sauer. They’re still working to pull concrete data, but he estimates that they’re now at an average of two-thirds of staff in Wisconsin choosing to get the vaccine.

“Some staff may have been hesitant, and they deferred getting the vaccine until the 2nd visit by the vaccinators,” he noted. “And at that time we saw about a third increase in the number of staff receiving the vaccine.”

For Nancy and so many others, the other side of the pandemic is coming closer.

“If we continue on this path and the variants don’t increase our numbers,” Sauer said, “We’re on a really good trajectory.”