One year mark of COVID-19 pandemic shows progress and the need to remain vigilant

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Area officials reflected on Thursday, March 11, which marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

“I think it’s a good time to pause and recognize and thank everyone who has contributed to the effort to fight the COVID-19 virus this past year,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Trends in the area are looking promising amid the vaccine rollout, but concerns still remain as the community heads back toward normalcy. 

Doctors say the amount of discovery and progress we’ve made in a year is astounding, with one of the most notable achievements being a vaccine, but new coronavirus variants could threaten the journey back to normal.

“As we write this story and look back on this, I mean this is going to be both a tragic year but also a heroic year at some level,” said Dr. James Conway with UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Dr. James Conway says to exit this pandemic, we’ll need durable herd immunity. While current vaccines are showing promising efficacy against new variants, it’s not smooth sailing just yet. Doctors are concerned with how to manage the circulating mutations.

“Trying to get a real sense for the virus and how much it changes, and does that change necessitate booster vaccines or updating vaccines,” Dr. Conway adds.

Dr. Conway says we are in a window of opportunity to ramp up vaccinations while continuing efforts to curb spread, at a time where experts say the B.1.1.7 variant is making up nearly 40-percent of cases. Studies on B.1.1.7 show it has the potential to spread quicker and be more dangerous. 

“We see that usually as it nears that 50-percent mark is when you have a change in trajectory of overall cases, you start increasing your overall cases,” says Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and medical director at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

“Next couple of months are really critical to just get enough vaccine and then get people to be able to get that vaccine, before the other variants start to take over,” Dr. Conway said.

So far only 17-percent have gotten the vaccine in Milwaukee County, with a goal of 75 to 80-percent before reaching herd immunity, but officials say we’re headed in the right direction.

“You know this could be looking backwards saying that the worst is already over, but I think it’s going to require a committed effort from everybody,” adds Dr. Conway.

“We have hope that a sense of normalcy may come soon, after a year that was anything but normal,” said Darren Rausch, health director at Greenfield Health Department.

For people who were reluctant to get the shot, Dr. Conway says the time to get vaccinated is now. He says at this point, 60 million people have been vaccinated in the U.S., and there’s more than enough data to prove the vaccines are safe and effective.

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