Why this December is different: Doctors explain why Dane County is better off than last year, even as hospitalizations near 2020 highs

MADISON, Wis.– If Governor Tony Evers wasn’t wearing such a distinct mask during Wednesday’s public health briefing, it would be hard to differentiate from one held last December. Evers and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard used all of the key phrases as they spoke for nearly an hour: herd immunity, social distancing, COVID fatigue.

And it’s getting hard not to feel, well, fatigued.

But local doctors say that while all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties are currently experiencing high transmission and record hospitalizations, people living in and around Madison should feel relatively safe knowing doctors understand a lot more about the virus than this time last year.

RELATED: Wisconsin requests federal help for staff-strapped hospitals

SSM Health Dr. David Ottenbaker explained some of the biggest medical breakthroughs:

“Number one, we know that the virus mutates and it’s going to be more of an endemic than a pandemic,” he said in an interview with News 3 Now.

“We now have monoclonal antibodies that are effective in mitigating the severity of the disease,” Ottenbaker added. “And there are some oral therapies that are probably going to be coming out after the first of the year.”

RELATED: ‘We are at full. Period:’ Wisconsin health officials share concerns over rising COVID-19 hospitalizations

While COVID-19 cases have increased nearly 50% in Dane County over the past two weeks, hospitalizations are only up 10%. Doctors said that percentage could be much higher if more than 75% of the community hadn’t received at least one vaccine shot.

MORE: Wisconsin vaccination rates by county

“We know the vaccines are effective,” Ottenbaker said. “Even with the delta variant, they clearly slow down the severity of the illness.”

According to the Wisconsin DHS, people who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to get COVID-19, 11 times more likely to become hospitalized, and 15 times more likely to die.

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