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‘We are in a race right now’: DHS leader reacts to rise in cases, ongoing vaccine disparities

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin's top health official expressed concern Wednesday over the state's slight but steady rise in new COVID-19 cases.

According to the Department of Health Services, the 7-day average for new cases per day was 657; the last time that figure had exceeded 650 was in mid-February.

"We've all been living with COVID for so long, it can be easy to become complacent and just sort of forget that case counts really are important to pay attention to," Timberlake said.

While 21 percent of the state's residents were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, including 77 percent of those 65 and older, Timberlake said it wasn't enough to mitigate concerns about the spread of variant strains of the virus.

"We are in a race right now between the vaccine administration and the spread of the virus in general and especially the new variants," said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

Timberlake acknowledged skepticism of the vaccine remains a concern and tried to assure residents the three vaccines to receive emergency use approval in the United States were all safe.

"I think sometimes people look at the speed at which the vaccines were developed and they wonder what that means about safety and efficacy," she said. "What I can tell you is the science behind the vaccines is sound; every safety precaution that needed to be taken was taken."

Timberlake added people seeking a vaccine should not hold out to find a type of vaccine and should simply make an appointment as soon as one's available.

The DHS has launched an online map that tracks vaccinators who've received doses throughout the state. For anyone who prefers to get information by phone, the DHS vaccine hotline is 844-684-1064.

Ongoing disparities

Despite continued efforts at the state and local levels, the racial disparities among who is and isn't getting vaccinated remain stark.

While nearly one-third of white Wisconsin adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, just about 17 percent of Hispanic residents have gotten their first dose; that number is under 14 percent for Black Wisconsinites.

Timberlake cited a recent $6 million dollar allocation in grants to 100 community organizations throughout the state. Those organizations are tasked with reaching underserved communities and helping them either find vaccinators or combat misinformation about the vaccine's safety and efficacy.

"All of those things are gonna help us make sure that every single person who is eligible and wishes to get vaccinated can get vaccinated," Timberlake said.

Some of the organizations to receive state grants and serve South Central Wisconsin include 100 Black Men of Dane County, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, the Latino Health Council of Dane County, Sauk County Public Health, SSM Health St. Mary's, the Wisconsin Community Health Fund, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

Author Profile Photo

A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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