CHIPPEWA FALLS — After weeks near or above 50% positivity rate, Chippewa County saw its COVID-19 numbers plummet in the past week.

Out of 842 tests given in the past week, only 239 people tested positive for the virus, a rate of 28.3%. That is down from last week’s positivity rate of 48%, and 44.8% two weeks ago.

Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman was upbeat about the dip in cases and positivity rate while discussing the pandemic during her weekly press conference Wednesday.

“We’ve started seeing our data move in a positive direction,” Weideman said. “I do think a lot of people are starting to take the virus seriously. They now know someone who had COVID-19, or hospitalized from COVID-19, or unfortunately, someone who died from COVID-19. That does help people think about the virus more.”

A week ago, 587 people tested positive from 1,104 tests given. While the number of tests conducted dropped, Weideman said that area clinics and medical centers are not having problems with processing tests or obtaining the needed items to perform tests.

Another positive sign is the number of people hospitalized in Chippewa County has dropped to eight. That is down from 12 last week, and 21 two weeks ago. Overall, 77% of hospital beds in northwest Wisconsin are in use, including 84.5% of ICU beds.

However, the number of virus-related deaths climbed in the past week from 57 to 62.

Last week, the Chippewa Falls school district announced that elementary schools, for students kindergarten through fifth grade, will resume in-person learning Jan. 4. Weideman said that decision was a joint effort between the school and her office, as they have seen fewer students in quarantine and isolation, and fewer overall illnesses among youths.

“We really looked at the data, and how the number of cases have decreased for that age bracket,” she said.

Weideman said the positivity rate varies across the county, and they will continue to look at data before recommending other schools that have gone to all-virtual learning models transition back to in-person learning.

Weideman also was upbeat about the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius. The state’s Department of Health has worked out plans to send the vaccines to hub locations in Wisconsin.

“We are prepared and equipped for that storage,” she said.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots, with the second shot coming 21 days after the first. Weideman stressed the importance of coming back for that second dose.

“It’s extremely important that people follow the protocols given during the vaccine trial,” Weideman said.

While the news of vaccines coming is good news, Weideman reminded people it will take months for everyone to get immunized, and she urged everyone to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing. Even with the drop in cases and lower positivity rate, Chippewa County is still considered to be at a severe risk level, which means a recommendation of only immediate household members being inside a home, and limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people.