Health-care and public health workers, pharmacists and even some dentists have been hard at work providing vaccines to members of the public as a fourth wave of COVID-19 threatens to hit Wisconsin and the nation. 

While vaccinations have ramped up — Vilas and Oneida counties are reporting nearly half of their populations have received at least the first dose, and about 30% have been fully vaccinated — there continues to be concern now that variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have come to Wisconsin.

Data updated April 8 on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) site, dhs.wisconsin.gov, shows that there have been 148 cases of variant B.1.1.7., 216 cases of B.1.427/B.1.429, 15 cases of B.1.351, and 4 cases of P.1.

While more studies are needed to learn about these variants, they seem to be able to spread more quickly than the original virus, and some are showing evidence that vaccines and antibody treatments may be less effective against certain variants.

There also has been an uptick in cases in the state, according to data from the DHS website. 

Reported April 10, the seven-day statewide positivity level had increased to 3.7%, up from a 2% positivity level one month ago. Positivity levels reached their peak in Wisconsin on Nov. 12, when the seven-day percentage of positive cases hit 17.5%. 

Health officials continue to urge everyone to continue public health practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the new variants, including wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home as much as possible, getting tested if symptoms appear, and getting the vaccine as soon as eligibility allows.



Masks in schools 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate has created a sticky situation for many school officials who now have to forge their own path on how to proceed with masking requirements within their districts. 

Northland Pines and Phelps school districts continue to enforce their mask policies, while the Three Lakes School District has opted to put the choice to wear masks into the hands of students and their families.

Northland Pines School District is currently enforcing the use of masks and adhering to its back to school plan, according to District Administrator Scott Foster. 

Foster said that removing mask enforcement in the district requires full board action, and the district is currently working with Vilas County Public Health Department officials and watching what happens with variants in the state.

A school board meeting is scheduled Monday, April 26, to discuss how to proceed. 

Delnice Hill, district administrator for Phelps School, said that the district continues its enforcement of masks in its building as they decide how to proceed based on recommendations from Vilas County Public Health Department.

Meanwhile, Three Lakes School District released a statement via Facebook recently that wearing a mask is now optional, stating that its “Bluejay Return Plan references the mask requirement per the state order, which no longer exists.”

The statement further noted that the rest of the plan is still in effect and will be reviewed at the next regularly scheduled board meeting.



Local statistics

The latest information from the Vilas County Public Health Department shows that there are 33 active cases in the county and the death toll remains at 42.

In Oneida County, there are 37 active cases and the county has seen 70 confirmed deaths.