OSHKOSH, Wis. — The graph of COVID-19 cases in Winnebago County shows an upward curve since early April.

It’s a trend that’s shown few signs of slowing as the county and state head into the fall. Health officials say they have an idea of where many of the new cases are coming from. 

“The cases we’re hearing about are people who are getting together in groups and going to group events,” said Doug Gieryn, who heads the Winnebago County Health Department. “That can be a wedding, a funeral, or it might just be a get-together for a cookout or something like that.”

The county isn’t alone in the uptick of cases.

Two days into the week, Wisconsin is seeing the number of positive cases coming back from testing at more than 20 percent. The rolling seven-day-average is 14.9 percent.

“What it tells us is there’s a large burden of disease out in the community that we’re not detecting right now,” said Dr. John Raymond, president of the Medical College of Wisconsin. “That’s what the positivity rate tells you, there are a lot of cases out there we’re simply not testing.” 

The uptick in cases — while other metrics like death rate and hospital capacity remain stable — is likely an indication the illness is affecting younger people who may not require hospitalization. Though they can still pass it on to others, including those in higher-risk groups.

While Gieryn said it's hard to look at day to day numbers and draw a firm conclusion, the most recent figures are part of a longer-term upward trend in the state and region. 

“As we become less effective at controlling spread, we’re going to have more pressure put on our health care system and its going to be tougher for the health care systems to maintain adequate staffing and capacity,” he said. “That means those that are most vulnerable, those that have underlying conditions — it’s a big chunk of the population that applies to — are going to have a harder time getting the treatment they need to do well through a very severe infection.”

There were 313 people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 Sunday, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. That’s down six in the last day, but up almost 30 over the past week.

“I want to reassure everybody the health systems are prepared for whatever comes our way,” Raymond said.

Gieyrn and others continue to stress wearing masks and maintaining physical distance help mitigate the spread of the virus and keep people from getting ill in the first place.

“If you’re been resistant to it, we’re at a potential breaking point here and it’s more important than ever to really start adhering to those physical distancing guidelines, and wearing a mask so we can keep things manageable,” he said. “If we don’t, things will become unmanageable and we’ll have unnecessary suffering and loss of life as a result in our community.”​