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Wisconsin isn’t the healthiest state in the country, and while it’s not the worse it could always do better. According to the United Health Foundation’s annual report on “America’s Health Rankings,” in 2020, the biggest challenges Wisconsinites faced included high rates of excessive drinking, high premature death racial inequality and high residential segregation.

The Advancing of a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment wants to make Wisconsin a healthier state, and part of it is eradicating COVID-19. The group recently announced a $230,000 funding award to help its community partners increase COVID-19 vaccine distribution rates.

Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment is a philanthropic program based at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The group first began in 2004 through funding by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, according to its website. It has invested $275 million in nearly 500 projects as part of its efforts to improve community health, research and health workforce education.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the systemic disparities in health equity that exist based on race and ethnicity in our state that have had a significant impact in Milwaukee County in particular,” Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, director of the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment and senior associate dean at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said in a press release.

Its recent funding award will go toward various community partners who are focusing on the 10 ZIP codes in Milwaukee County that have been the most impacted by COVID-19.

These partners include Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, Jump at the Sun Consultants, Inpower and 2-Story.

The funding will be distributed over the next six months, according to the press release.

Dr. Ben Weston is an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine for the Medical College of Wisconsin and director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

“Vaccination rates in high-vulnerability communities across Milwaukee County lag vaccination rates in our high resource communities,” he said in the press release.

He continued that this investment will expand the group’s local outreach strategy, which works with trusted community mobilizers to reach residents and spread the word on COVID-19 vaccine resources and information.

During the Milwaukee County’s COVID-19 update meeting on Tuesday, April 27, Weston, explained why receiving the vaccine is important.

Wisconsin is seeing an average of 133 new cases a day and one death a day, he said. While there has been some improvement on a local level, globally it doesn’t look great.

“Worldwide, there are now more daily COVID cases than at any other point in the pandemic,” he said. “In that sense, worldwide, the pandemic is currently worse than it has ever been. That’s over 800,000 cases per day.”

Countries such as India, Brazil, Turkey, Germany, Argentina and Colombia are seeing a steep increase in COVID-19 cases, he said. While India’s situation is the most well-known at the moment it is not alone.

With these tragedies happening around the world, it is easy to feel like these situations are removed, Weston said. But in reality, these situations have the potential for a global impact.

“None of us live in isolation,” he said. “We didn’t live in isolation when the virus began in China; we didn’t live in isolation when cases began to take off in Washington state and then in New York not so long ago. And we certainly did not live in isolation when dangerous variants – mutations in the virus – led to increased contagiousness, increased severity and even immune system evasion.”

When the virus replicates, it moves from one person to another and mutations occur, Weston explained. Some mutations don’t make a difference at all, but in places where positive cases are high and out of control, more mutations naturally occur, he said.

“And it’s more likely that one of those mutations will give the virus an evolutionary advantage,” he said. “And that virus will then be able to take hold and multiply. An advantage to the virus ends up being bad news for all of us.”

That’s why the vaccines are so important, Weston said, for individuals, for the community and for the whole world. The vaccines seem to be working well, he said, and people are fortunate to have access to the vaccines.

“Again, we don’t live in isolation and the best way to protect yourself, but also to protect your children, your parents, your coworkers, your neighbors is to get vaccinated,” he said.

“Take advantage of the vaccine supply that we are so lucky to have in our community.”

For more information on COVID-19, go to covid19.mcw.edu and for information on vaccine appointments, go to healthymke.com.

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