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Wisconsin expands vaccine eligibility to age 16 and older

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Everyone age 16 and up became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin on Monday, the same day that an outbreak of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus was reported at a Dane County child care center and positive cases statewide continued to increase.

Also Monday, the state announced it was once again accepting applications for unarmed combat sports programs like boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts with the events expected to take place after June 1. They have been on hold since March 24, 2020.

The mixture of good and bad news for the state mirrored the story across much of the world, as the push to vaccinate as many people as possible amid new variants of the virus.

In Wisconsin, as of Monday 33% of the population had received at least one vaccine dose and more than 20% were fully vaccinated, the state Department of Health Services reported. But the percentage of newly confirmed cases continued to go up from a low point during the second week in March.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Wisconsin increased by nearly 26%, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There were 169 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks in Wisconsin, which ranks 36th in the country for new cases per capita.

Public Health Madison & Dane County on Monday said that 35 people connected to a single child care center tested positive for the virus, including a more contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom. The health department said 21 of the center’s children and workers tested positive as did 14 of their family members. It did not name the center or where in the county it was located.

Most of the children who tested positive had mild symptoms like fever and cough, the health department said, while urging parents not to discount those symptoms for seasonal allergies but instead have children tested for COVID-19.

“We know the variants are more infectious, and younger children can’t be vaccinated yet, so this is an important reminder that we must all continue to take precautions,” said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, in a statement. “Get tested if you are showing any symptoms, get your children tested if they are showing symptoms, and get vaccinated as soon as you can. The vaccines are highly effective against severe disease and death from COVID-19 infection, even with the most prevalent variants.”

As of Thursday in Wisconsin, 139 cases of the variant from the U.K., known as B117, have been detected. There have been eight cases of the variant first identified in South Africa and one case of the variant first found in Brazil.

Everyone in the state age 16 is now eligible for the vaccine, although state health officials warned that demand was outpacing supply. Those age 16 and 17 can receive only the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

The Wisconsin National Guard announced Monday that all military service members and military civilians, dependents, contractors, and military retirees could schedule appointments through the Guard.

“It will take patience, but we encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” said state health secretary Karen Timberlake.

The state’s vaccine deployment made it possible to resume boxing and other combat sports, said Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim.

“People are just kind of chomping at the bit for the return to sports, and unarmed combat sports is in the same boat,” Crim said.

Masks will be required for all attendees, but participants can remove them. Other safety protocols, including limiting crowd sizes and requiring either a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination will also be implemented.

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