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Wisconsin reports record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations after task force warned of 'rapid worsening'

Wisconsin is reporting its highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations on record, just days after the White House coronavirus task force warned of a "rapid worsening" of the pandemic in the state last week.

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Christina Maxouris, Jason Hanna
Theresa Waldrop, CNN
CNN — Wisconsin is reporting its highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations on record, just days after the White House coronavirus task force warned of a "rapid worsening" of the pandemic in the state last week.

With 646 Covid-19-related hospitalizations Wednesday, Wisconsin reported just 18% of hospital beds are available, according to the state's Covid-19 website. Almost a third -- 32% -- of those hospitalized are in the intensive care unit.

The White House task force called on the state to increase social distancing "to the maximal degree possible," less than a week before President Donald Trump's scheduled campaign rallies in hot-spot metro areas La Crosse and Green Bay.

Wisconsin had the third-highest rate of new cases per capita last week and had a test-positivity rate of between 8% and 10%, the seventh highest in the country, the task force said in a report dated Sunday and obtained by CNN.

"To the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline," the letter reads.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers earlier this month declared a "new public health emergency due to campus outbreaks." And Covid-19 hospitalizations have almost doubled in the state since September 18, the Wisconsin Hospital Association said Tuesday.

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Evers said Tuesday that Covid-19 cases in the state were "picking up speed."

The state's seven-day average of new daily cases hit its record for the pandemic Tuesday at 2,225, according to Johns Hopkins University. That is up from 630 six weeks ago.

"No party, no bar, no gathering is worth it," Evers said.

The Midwest, as defined by the US Census Bureau, has recently overtaken the South for the country's highest seven-day average of new daily cases per 1 million residents, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The Midwest averaged 156 cases per 1 million people, against 124 in the South, 88 in the West and 51 in the Northeast, Johns Hopkins data shows.

26 states report higher 7-day averages of new cases

Communities across the US are loosening restrictions meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 ahead of a fall and winter season experts warn could be especially challenging.

This comes as at least 26 states -- mostly in the country's northern half -- were reporting higher seven-day averages of new daily cases Wednesday than a week ago.

In Nevada, where case rates have inched up since hitting a monthslong low in mid-September, the governor has bumped the limit on public gatherings from 50 participants to 250, still not to exceed 50% capacity of a venue.

Wyoming, which last week set a single-day record for new Covid-19 cases, loosened rules around restaurants after the governor said data showed dine-in restaurants have "not significantly contributed" to spread of the virus in the state.

In Florida, the governor recently cleared the way for bars and restaurants to fully reopen after its case rates dropped steeply from a summer peak. And several California counties were given the green light to move into less restrictive tiers of the state's reopening plans, officials said.

The announcements come after the US topped more than 7.1 million infections and more than 206,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

With many social settings moving indoors amid cooler weather and a potentially complicated flu season on the horizon, leading experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci have urged communities to continue heeding safety guidelines -- such as wearing masks and social distancing -- and prepare for another rise in infections.

For the country as a whole, although cases rates are down from a summer surge, they recently have inched up.

New daily cases over a week averaged about 42,000 as of Tuesday. That's down from a peak average of 67,317 on July 22 -- but it also is up about 22% since September 12, when it was at a two-month low of 34,307.

New York City battling test-positivity spikes as more schools set to reopen

New York City is monitoring spikes in test-positivity rates in a few neighborhoods, even as it opens schools and rolls back restaurant restrictions.

The city opened elementary schools for in-person learning Tuesday and intends to open middle and high schools Thursday. Wednesday, the city started allowing indoor dining at restaurants at 25% capacity.

The city said earlier this week that some neighborhoods were seeing Covid-19 cases grow at an alarming rate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that officials are especially watching nine ZIP codes with test-positivity rates between 3% and 6% -- well above the entire city's seven-day rolling average of 1.46%.

If that seven-day rate goes over 3%, the city will close all schools, de Blasio has said.

The city health department has said it was deploying 11 mobile testing units to areas with high test-positivity rates.

Restaurants in areas with spiking rates will get special attention, de Blasio said.

"There is going to be a very rigorous inspection effort in those ZIP codes, and we are going to be looking carefully to make sure every restaurant is following the rules," de Blasio said Wednesday.

A college student dies after Covid-19 complications

In North Carolina, an Appalachian State University student who was diagnosed with Covid-19 earlier this month has died after suffering later complications, Appalachian State Chancellor Sheri Everts said in a statement.

Covid-19 infections among college-age people surged as schools reopened across the US, according to new studies. One study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found between early August and early September, cases among people 18-22 years old increased 55% nationally.

The student, Chad Dorrill, returned home and went into isolation after testing positive, Everts said. Dorrill returned to Boone, where the university is located, once he was cleared by a doctor.

But after his return, the student suffered "additional complications" and was hospitalized, Everts said.

"Despite generally being at lower risk for severe illness, college-age adults can become seriously ill from COVID-19," the chancellor said in a statement. "We are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in students."

"All of us must remain vigilant with our safety behaviors wherever we are in our community."

Dorrill was living off-campus and taking all of his classes online, according to the chancellor. The university, which started classes last month, offers online, hybrid and in-person courses.

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