BARRON — Barron County has 178.7 deaths per 100,000 residents, which is the highest rate among 12 counties in western Wisconsin. Barron County now has 82 reported virus-related deaths.

However, deaths in the past three months have sharply declined, with just six fatalities since March 1. Laura Sauve, Barron County public health director, said it has been a relief to see the drop.

“No one wants to see our loved ones and neighbors seriously ill or die from this,” Sauve said.

In April, 18 virus-related deaths were reported among the 12 counties in the region: Barron County had six, St. Croix and Trempealeau counties had three each, Eau Claire County had two, with Chippewa, Dunn, Pierce and Rusk counties with one death each.

In comparison, those same 12 counties had 17 deaths in March, 30 deaths in February, 85 in January, and 129 in December.

Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman saw nearly a death per day from mid-October through the end of the 2020. So, she described it as “a relief” that Chippewa County has only had two virus-related deaths since March 1.

“I’m definitely happy to see the number of people dying from COVID going down, and the death rate is declining,” Weideman said. “It’s definitely a good thing. However, I am concerned that some people in the community think the pandemic is over. I still want people to be cautious and considerate of others.”

Sauve said her one-month death figure appears high because the state recently informed her office that three deaths that occurred between January and March were recently reclassified as COVID-19-related fatalities.

While the decline in deaths is obviously a positive, Sauve said it brings a challenge in convincing people to get vaccinated. Barron County is on par with other areas in western Wisconsin, with 38.4% of its population having received at least one vaccine dose, and 75.6% of seniors (age 65+) having received their first shot. Sauve is concerned that the demand for vaccines has stagnated in recent weeks, saying she fears cases, and deaths, could surge again if more people don’t take vaccines.

“It’s a challenge to get people to even talk about it,” Sauve said. “It’s just a matter of convincing people it is good for their health. We are nowhere near enough people vaccinated to slow this down.”

Barron County is giving free rides to anyone in the county to the UW campus in Rice Lake, where they are holding vaccine clinics in the gym. However, last week they only gave 122 vaccines, although they have the capacity to vaccinate 1,170 people weekly. Sauve also said they are willing to visit homes and give vaccines there, if needed.

“Our cases are down, and that’s always a good thing,” Sauve said. “The fewer people who get ill, that always helps with keeping down our hospitalizations and deaths.”