MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the state’s top health leaders on Thursday urged anyone age 12 or older who will be attending school in the fall to get vaccinated as soon as possible for COVID-19, as cases surge in the state due to the more contagious delta variant.

The call comes amid a growing concern in Wisconsin and nationally about growing numbers of COVID-19 cases. In Wisconsin, the seven-day average of new confirmed cases was 242 as of Thursday, which was three times as high as two-and-a-half weeks ago. There have been 7,393 deaths from the disease in Wisconsin since the start of the pandemic, with an average of one per day over the past week.

“Every COVID-19 death is now a preventable death,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, said in an impassioned plea for people to get vaccinated. “Without a vaccine, you are a sitting duck for COVID-19.”

She pointed with concern to the rising case counts and an almost doubling of hospitalizations from 74 to 143 over the past two weeks.

“Nearly all of these patients could have avoided this fate if they had been vaccinated,” Van Dijk said. “Many of them received incorrect information about vaccinations either from social media or friends who were also misinformed.”

She asked rhetorically when anyone had heard of someone contracting polio, the measles or diphtheria.

“The reasons these diseases are not present in our population and not killing us like they did generations ago is we have highly effective vaccines that don’t have social media spreading misinformation that people fall prey to,” Van Dijk said.

The illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths could be largely prevented if those who aren’t vaccinated get inoculated, she said.

With the resumption of school only weeks away, Evers urged students to get vaccinated.

“Getting vaccinated now means we can help make sure our students are back in the classroom and won’t have to miss out on in-person classes or extra-curricular activities,” Evers said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccines are the best protection we have against the virus and make it possible for our kids to get back to learning safely and without disruption.”

Only people ages 12 and older can get vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for children ages 12 to 17, but it requires two shots that are spaced 21-42 days apart. That’s why Evers and health officials urged people to get vaccinated now, before they return to school.

There is no reason to have spillover cases of COVID-19 in the community when students return to college campuses this year like there was last fall, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer for communicable diseases.

“Now is the ideal time for people who will be attending universities in the fall to get vaccinated so they are fully protected by the time they get back,” he said.