'COVID-19 is not over': Wisconsin case numbers increasing as variants become more prevalent

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's COVID-19 case numbers have more than doubled over the last few weeks, which is giving state leaders and doctors cause for concern.

"COVID-19 is not over, and it's trying to make a comeback," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer and emergency medicine physician at UW Health.

Wisconsin had 1,092 new confirmed cases Friday, the highest single-day number since February. Pothof worries this trend will continue.

"The longer we stay in this pandemic without stopping it, the more chances we give this virus to mutate into something that is a more formidable foe than what we've seen so far," Pothof said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified five variants of concern.

"All five of these strains are currently in Wisconsin," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

The UK variant, B117, is more contagious and more likely to cause severe disease.

Westergaard said B117 will likely be the predominant strain in Wisconsin over the next few weeks, if it's not already.

"We are not ready to go back to life, pre-COVID," DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said.

Willems Van Dijk is pleading with people to continue social distancing and wearing masks.

"There may not be a statewide mask mandate anymore, but that doesn't decrease one iota the need for everybody to behave as if there is a state mask mandate," Willems Van Dijk said.

Doctors urge people to think about what happens if these downward trends continue, including a strain on hospitals, more deaths and life not returning to normal.

"We could find ourselves in an undesirable location that summer, with COVID numbers starting to increase while we're trying to do all the fun things that we like to do during the summer months," Pothof said.

Pothof said the best ways to reduce these trends are to wear a mask and get vaccinated as soon as possible. People who have been vaccinated still need to wear masks because they can still spread the virus to people who haven't been vaccinated.

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