Wald, Butteris update Board on health data

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Dr. Ellen Wald, the chair of the UW-Madison Pediatrics Department, and Dr. Sabrina Butteris provided an update on the latest Dane County health data at the Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 11. 

Board president Annette Ashley presided over the meeting at the District Services Center, while other Board members participated remotely. The School Board has been meeting virtually since mid-March.

Wald noted she had reviewed similar data during her first presentation to members in mid-November. She noted the United States has seen huge increases since end of October, including topping more than 300,000 new cases in a single day over the weekend.

Wisconsin had seen a surge in mid-November but health experts encouraged people to not travel or limit gatherings during Thanksgiving and the result was a decline in case in December. Wisconsin has seen a slight increase of late but the state is doing much better than the United States. 

Wald noted the number of in-patients in Dane County peaked in November and is currently at 111 daily, which is the lowest it has been in a couple of months. The same trend has occurred with current inpatients in ICUs.

"The trend is really very encouraging,'' Wald said.

She briefly reviewed the United Kingdom variant and mutation from the original strain, noting it first appeared in September. She noted mutations are expected and that there is no evidence that the variance is more extreme than the original strain. She also noted the vaccine appears to be effective against it as well.

Wald reviewed why health experts don't believe schools are COVID hotspots. She noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared a study showing that most children acquire COVID-19 in the community and not in their schools. Health experts believe to keep schools safe staff and students must follow mitigation strategies and limit large gatherings.

Members wondered what impact the return UW-Madison students will have. Wald noted UW is requiring students to have a negative test before returning and students will be tested weekly. She also noted UW improved as first semester went on and the number of positive cases dropped significantly .

Members also wondered about staggering return dates by levels. Wald thought that made sense as the District can learn from each level as it opens up. She also thought having a vaccine would be helpful, but doesn't think schools should wait for it to happen. 

Mermbers also had questions about what the District should consider if going to allow students to participate in sports. Wald and Butteris noted challenges include not being able to control variables, especially when playing teams that may not follow the same mitigation strategies that MCPASD is using.