By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
“Vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.” Those were the words spoken by Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and reiterated by several others during Milwaukee County’s first in-person COVID-19 update meeting.
The meeting took place at North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St., on Monday, March 14. Johnson alongside Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Dr. Ben Weston, Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson and Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley provided the latest updates and information regarding COVID-19 in Milwaukee.
The meeting was open to the public. It had been about two years since the last in-person COVID-19 update meeting.
During his remarks, Johnson noted that March 13 marked the second anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Milwaukee.
“When we look back, there’s a lot to mourn,” he said, reflecting on the number of deaths, which reaches nearly 1,100. “These victims were our neighbors, they were our friends, they were our family members. We reflect on those who have been hospitalized and those who have lasting effects from contracting the COVID-19 disease.”
Johnson also referenced the impact the pandemic has had on children and their education and health, on workers and small businesses and more. The road has been filled with ups such as the vaccine rollout and downs such as the arrival of the omicron variant.
Many people are facing COVID fatigue, he said, which isn’t an actual disease but a natural emotion response to the challenges.
“We can’t be complacent,” he said. “We can knock down COVID even more and the way to do that is vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.”
The Milwaukee Health Department provides updates on positive cases, testing, hospitalizations and vaccination rates, Johnson said. As of last week, the transmission rate remains in the moderate category. The vaccination rate among City of Milwaukee adults is about 63.6% – that is individuals who are fully vaccinated and about 45% have received their booster.
During his remarks, Crowley expressed his thanks to the frontline workers, health care workers and more. Their actions kept people safe and ensured that resources such as vaccinations were shared equitably.
“We’re committed to continuing to provide an environment that is safe for all the people,” he said. “We truly appreciate everyone who has been willing and eager to help Milwaukee County continue to be safe.”
Crowley noted that even though cases are down, vaccination and booster rates need to increase. At the moment, vaccination rates in Milwaukee remain low. He urged parents to sit with their health care provider to get the answers they seek and likewise urged the community to continue their conversations.
Weston is an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the chief health policy advisor of Milwaukee County.
“We are entering a new phase of the pandemic,” Weston said. “Unfortunately, COVID is not done, we will continue to be affected by COVID, but we can be hopeful that our individual and collective immunity, that our ability to provide testing and masks and our increasingly available therapeutics will allow us to blunt the impact of future waves.”
No one knows what the future holds, he said, adding that two years ago at the start of the pandemic he noted it was the time for preparation and not panic.
These days that preparation looks like getting the vaccine. The vaccination rate remains low among populations of color and school age children, Weston said. The booster rate is also low. There is misinformation and miscommunication, but there are facts.
“The vaccine is safe, and the vaccine is effective in your kids,” he said. “Get yourself vaccinated; get yourself boosted and reach out to that family member, that friend, that neighbor and help them to get vaccinated, help them to get boosted and protected as well.”
Weston continued, “Together we’ve all been through two years of this pandemic and together we’ll move forward as safely as possible.”
Health Commissioner Johnson also spoke during the press conference. She thanked the community organizations such as Bucks, Brewers, faith-based groups and more.
This virus is unpredictable, she said, and more variants are likely to occur. She advised people to get tested if they feel symptomatic, wear masks, get vaccinated and if vaccinated get boosted.
“This pandemic has affected our entire community and will take our entire community to recover,” she said.