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‘Not over the hump’

Health director warns against coronavirus complacency even though local numbers are still steady

Clark County has had only one new positive coronavirus report in the last week. Don’t be lulled into complacency by that, says county Health Director Brittany Mews, as that could be just the opening the virus needs to infect more people.

Clark County recorded its eighth confi rmed case over the weekend, as Wisconsin’s infection numbers climbed to 3,555, as of Tuesday afternoon. Of those eight, six were connected, meaning that those people had contact with each other and the source is known. For the other two cases — including the one reported over the weekend — there is “ no known source,” Mews said, and that tells public health experts there are likely more people in the population with COVID-19.

“ We t r u ly don’t know where those people picked it up from,” Mews said. “We know there’s a lot more cases in the county.”

That alone should warn people that it’s not yet safe to mingle with others in groups or not adhere to Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order. Mews said Clark County may have a relatively low number of cases at this time, but it would not take much for that to change. Wisconsin numbers are still on the rise, and no one is sure when the peak may arrive.

“We’re definitely not over the hump, I can tell you that,” Mews said. “It’s not rising exponentially, but there are new cases.”

According to a “peak projection” model formulated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the state is still weeks away from seeing the worst impacts of the virus. As more people are infected and tested, the numbers will rise.

“Due to the time that passes between transmission, symptoms, and a test result, policies like Safer at Home will need more time to result in a significant decrease in cases reported,” reads information on the DHS website. “This means Wisconsin’s peak will most likely occur within three to seven weeks (between April 23 and May 23, 2020).”

While the official data shows Clark County with eight cases, that’s not realistically accurate, Mews said. That number is almost surely higher because of limited testing capabilities in the area. Local health providers have varying criteria for which patients get tested, Mews said, and there is a shortage of things that are needed to test more people.

“Overall, there’s a lack of testing supplies and PPEs (personal protective equipment) to do the testing. They’re working on it,” Mews said. County health departments do not conduct testing, and providers such as the Marshfield Medical Center system and Ascension determine who and when they will test. They also work within their own supply chains to get the supplies needed to either rule patients in or out as COVID-19 positive.

“It’s very varied,” Mews said of the way different providers are testing. “Some providers are telling them (patients with COVID-like symptoms) to go home and isolate themselves until they’re well.” In those cases, a patient may well have the virus, but is not tested and the case not counted in the official statistics.

Also, there are very likely people with the coronavirus who don’t show symptoms and have no idea they may have it, but can still transmit it to others.

“There’s no testing of asymptomatics,” Mews said. “You have to have symptoms to get tested. People can be asymptomatic carriers.”

As of Tuesday, there had been 107 people tested with negative results in the county.

Mews said public health directors participate in a daily update with the state Department of Health Services to monitor

“There’s definitely individuals and entities that are not taking it as seriously and complying like we’d want,” -- Clark County Health Director Brittany Mews trends in case statistics, but no one knows for sure when the infection peak will be reached and COVID-positive cases will begin to decline. There is concern among officials that people will start to let down their guard as new infection numbers slow, and especially when business, schools, etc. may begin to reopen. Once the “Safer at Home” order is lifted and social distancing habits wane, the coronavirus may reassert itself.

“We could have another outbreak,” Mews said.

Also, she said, there’s no reason to believe Clark County cannot see a sudden surge in cases. Neighboring Chippewa County has 23 known positives, Eau Claire has 21, and Jackson recently reported its first COVIDrelated death, and it wouldn’t take much for an infected person to spread it here.

As of Monday, Mews said April 24 is still the target date for the governor’s order to be lifted and schools to possibly reopen, and no one from the state on Monday’s conference call was willing to say otherwise. That’s just a square on a calendar, Mews said, and isn’t a magical time when everyone will again be safe.

“It’s not just going to stop overnight,” she said. “On April 24, it’s not just gonna go away.”

People can best protect themselves and slow the spread by continuing to adhere to strict social distancing practices, Mews said, and to stay home as much as possible.

“There’s definitely individuals and entities that are not taking it as seriously and complying like we’d want,” she said.