Public health orders are based on data

Photo of painting created on boarded up windows in downtown State St in Madison, WI.
Photo of downtown mural on State St in Madison. Photo courtesy of Henrique Nardi, @tipocracia on Flickr and @henriquenardi on Instagram. 

Today, we released new orders further restricting, among other things, mass gatherings and restaurant and bar activity.

These restrictions are based in public health data and evidence. Our disease investigators are able to reach almost everyone who tests positive for COVID-19, and many people share their activities (how they could have been exposed) freely, even if the behavior is stigmatized (i.e. going to strip clubs). People who are testing positive for COVID-19 are telling us that they’re mostly hanging out at bars and with family and friends.

At these gatherings with friends and family, and at bars, people with COVID-19 report that people generally aren’t following requirements. People aren’t staying six feet apart or wearing masks. As a result, we have a large spike in cases, and we could see a corresponding spike in hospitalizations some weeks in the future.

What the data look like today

Here’s a recap of the data from June:

622 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Dane County between June 1 through June 24. For the question "In the 14 days before symptom onset, did you attend a gathering, party, or meeting with people from outside your household":

  • 288 answered "No."
  • 213 answered "Yes", and of those, 12 said they had attended a protest.
  • 6 answered "Unknown."

From June 13 through June 26, 614 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Dane County. Here’s what we know about these cases:

  • 45% of cases interviewed reported attending a gathering or party with people outside of their household.
  • 28% of cases (a total of 172) were associated with a cluster: 132 from bars, 14 from workplaces, 11 from congregate facilities, 3 from daycares/preschools, and 12 from other clusters.

Our data are not showing a large impact from protests at this time. This makes sense when thinking about what protests look like: they are outside, many people are wearing masks, and people are moving and not always near the same people for an extended period of time. With what we know about COVID-19, this activity is going to be less risky than gatherings that are indoors, do not have physical distancing, do not have people wearing masks, and include the same people near each other for extended periods of time.

Racism remains a public health crisis alongside COVID-19

Racism is a public health crisis, and our country is grappling with the weight of systemic racism as well as the impacts of COVID-19. Public health data has shown for decades the impacts of racism on Black health in our country. It is unjust and unacceptable that Black infants are 2-3 times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies, or that 42.4% of Black families live in poverty. These are systemic and urgent problems that need to change.

Systemic racism is showing up in the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Since May (before the protests), Black and Latinx people have tested positive for COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than White people in our county. From the beginning of the pandemic to June 28th, 6.1% of tests among Latinx people come back positive and 3.5% of tests among Black people came back positive, compared to 2% of tests among white people.  And when we think about all the inequities that exist for people of color in Dane County—housing, poverty, transportation, education, incarceration, chronic diseases, and health care access, to name a few—it makes sense that people who are not allowed access to the same resources will not be able to easily avoid coming in contact with people who have COVID-19.  

We encourage everyone attending protests to wear a mask and to stay 6 feet from others as much as possible. For the most part, both locally and around the country, this advice is working. If you are worried about the uptick of COVID-19, we ask that you worry less about people protesting and more about how you, your family, and your friends are changing their social behavior to slow the spread of COVID-19. Consider your assumptions. What racial biases do you have that have led you to believe that protesting is a driver of this pandemic instead of the actions that actually are driving it? If you want to get angry, get angry at our systems that drive systemic injustices for people of color in our county and our country.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.