Members of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team help with free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Dawson Ball Fields in Janesville.

Rock County epidemiologist Nick Zupan hopes a recent improvement in local COVID-19 trends means a light at the end of the tunnel for the county.

But Zupan said he recognizes the county is not out of the woods, and the data could change, especially as cases generated by the Thanksgiving holiday come to light.

To see continued improvement, residents must be vigilant with mask wearing and social distancing as winter and the December holidays approach, Zupan said during a Tuesday conference call with members of Forward Janesville.

Although the data is improving, the numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still high—well above what health officials consider under control.

Rock County has 1,591 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19, down 98 from Tuesday and down 504 since Dec. 1, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

No new deaths were reported Wednesday. The county’s total remains at 99. More than half the deaths were reported in November.

Of all test results returned Wednesday, 30% were positive—three times higher than the 10% the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers as evidence of significant disease activity, Zupan said.

While active cases are decreasing, the number is still well above active case numbers in summer and early fall. The county reported 620 active cases Oct. 1, fewer than half the current number.

State officials this week said they are concerned about the overall drop in numbers of people getting tested.

Andrea Palm, secretary of the state’s health department, said high positivity rates and drops in total results show there is high COVID-19 activity, and some cases might not be reported because people are not getting tested.

Hospitalization numbers from Tuesday show 43 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, up two from Monday.

Hospital censuses at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville are steadily high, hospital representatives said on Tuesday’s call.

Hospital capacity has improved since November, when the county saw a peak of 74 hospitalizations, representatives said, but staff remains overwhelmed by the high patient activity and low staffing levels.

Eric Thornton, president of St. Mary’s, said staffing the hospital remains difficult as COVID-19 activity stays high in the community, increasing the chance for staff members to become sick or exposed.

Hospitals have done a good job making sure employees have protective equipment, said Ladd Udy, vice president at Mercyhealth.

So far, Mercyhealth has not seen COVID-19 spread among employees while at work. Those who have gotten sick have mostly been exposed outside of work, he said.

Udy said health officials beg the community to hang on a bit longer and continue following safety guidelines so hospitals have beds and staff available for anyone who might need them.