EAU CLAIRE — New cases of COVID-19 are higher than they’ve been since January in Eau Claire County, Health Department data indicate.

The county is averaging 43 new cases per day. At the same time last year, it averaged 12, according to data from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

There were 278 county residents newly confirmed to have the virus last week.

As of late August, younger demographics are still making up the largest portion of new COVID-19 cases in the county: In the third week of August there were 49 cases in people between 25 and 34 years old, followed by 38 cases among 35- to 44-year-olds.

“We continue to recommend people be a little cautious in terms of their exposures,” said Dr. Abinash Virk, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist, in a Thursday videoconference call with reporters. “We know there are a fair amount of delta infections in the community.”

Virk recommended people wear masks when they’re in crowded situations, if they’re indoors around other people, and if they’re immunocompromised, even vaccinated people.

COVID-19 infections in vaccinated people are still uncommon, and people who aren’t vaccinated are still far more likely to contract the virus, Wisconsin data indicate, but breakthrough infections do happen. They tend to be mild or asymptomatic cases, Virk said.

New cases of COVID-19 in Eau Claire County quickly fell in January and February, and have stayed very low throughout the summer. But the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant is suspected to be spurring Wisconsin’s current uptick in cases, which began in late July.

Hospitalizations in Eau Claire County fell significantly in July and August, but 11 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last week, according to county data — a weekly hospitalization count not seen since January.

The Health Department wrote in its weekly situation report Friday: “State and regional hospital and ICU bed capacity continues to decline. Prior trends suggest that hospitalizations are likely to continue to increase in the coming weeks.”

In the 15-county region of northwest Wisconsin, which includes Eau Claire, Dunn and Chippewa counties, about 81% of hospital beds and 96% of ICU beds were in use during the third and fourth week of August, according to state data.

As cases tick up, Virk recommended people cut down on traveling for the time being.

“As we try to curtail transmission and the whole pandemic, the fewer people who travel, the better we’ll be able to contain the pandemic overall,” she said. “If you do have to travel I’d definitely advise masking and social distancing, whether you’re eating at a restaurant or out and about meeting people.”

Local virus tracking data can be found at the Health Department’s portal, www.covid19eauclaire.org, or at tinyurl.com/379tcbua.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.