County board updated on COVID cases
A state Department of Health Services map showing a cluster of coronavirus cases in Clark County’s northwestern corner is an indication of the worst COVID-19 problem area to date, but it does not mean that the contagious disease is not found elsewhere, according to county health officials.
To best protect themselves, they say, people should assume that coronavirus is found in every county community, and that social distancing and hand sanitization is always in order.
After releasing a map on Monday that shows a coronavirus cluster in the Thorp-Stanley area, the county’s COVID-19 Crisis Team told the county board Tuesday morning that no one should assume COVID-19 is not found nearby.
“It is everywhere,” said county emergency management director John Ross, and just because not every area of the county shows up in red on a map does not mean it should be assumed that the virus is not circulating elsewhere.
Clark County had 18 confi rmed positive COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, and reported its first coronavirus-related death on Sunday. Statewide, the Department of Health Services reported 4,620 positive cases on Tuesday, with 242 deaths.
County health director Brittany Mews said the map released on Monday has only one colored area because that is the only area with 10 or more cases. All of the other areas of the map (shown above) are white, but only because there are less than 10 cases there. Other positive cases have been scattered throughout county communities, and Mews said health offi cials suspect there are many cases not known about because few people have been tested yet.
“There are people that are walking around right now that are infected, don’t have symptoms, and don’t know they’re infected,” Mews said during a conference call at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have to treat this as though it is everywhere ... Everyone needs to treat this as if everyone sitting within six feet of you has the virus.”
Mews said the county knows that the last 10 people in the county who tested positive all had close contact with each other. Those people have all been interviewed by health department workers, and lists have been made of the people with whom they had contact.
“We are monitoring a lot of people that have been exposed to confirmed cases,” Mews said.
Supervisor Tom Wilcox of Curtiss questioned the crisis team on its reluctance to release more specific information on known county cases. People will see the map with the one cluster of cases, he said, and assume that’s the only area where COVID- 19 is active.
“I think if we released more information about where it is, it becomes more real to the average person,” Wilcox said. “The average person in the county, this is not real to them. This is happening somewhere else.”
Mews and Ross said the county is following proper protocols to protect the privacy of people who have contracted COVID-19. With Clark County and all of its individual communities having relatively low populations, divulging specific information about those who have the disease would risk identifying them to the public.
“We are trying to be as transparent as we possibly can,” Ross said. “There is certain information that is protected that we don’t have the option of releasing.”
Mews said three of the 18 cases Clark County has seen have led to hospitalizations, and one patient remains in the hospital.
One problem the county continues to see is a lack of testing in order to get a better measure of how many residents may have it. The health department does not administer tests. Medical providers do, and Mews said their criteria for who may get a test is varied. Without more extensive knowledge of who may or may not have the virus, Mews said the best option is to assume it is widespread.
“Unfortunately, widespread testing is not available at this time,” Mews said. “We are working hard to try to increase testing capacity in the county. Treat it as if it is everywhere.”
Mews also cautioned citizens against looking too closely at the one map released to date, and drawing the conclusion that all COVID-19 cases in the county are located there.
“We do have confirmed cases outside the northwest part of the county and we know there are more cases out there,” she said.
Asked when the county might be able to begin lifting Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order or social distancing restrictions, Mews said it is too early to tell.
New case numbers are still rising, and the state is not yet meeting criteria for a reduction in numbers that could lead to less restrictions on public gatherings, etc.
“At this point, I can’t give you a clear answer,” Mews said.
Clark County Sheriff Scott Haines said his department continues to emphasize an education-first philosophy in responding to reports of gatherings. There have been concerns with events such as farm auctions, and officers are helping inform citizens of how to keep safe distancing. The county has prepared a “cease and desist” letter to give to any organizations/ businesses that may be planning events that are not allowed.
“Wehavenothadalotof cases,”Haines said. “The cases we have had have been handled peacefully and respectfully.”
Haines also said he has been hearing a lot of controversy about the governor’s continued closures, but his department is staying neutral.
Referring to last week’s public statement about the governor’s orders from Colby-Abbotsford police chief Jason Bauer, Haines said, “That’s his opinion and he is entitled to his opinion, and that’s all it is.”
Haines said residents need to continue to be vigilant with a dangerous disease.
“I can tell you this COVID loves a crowd, and that’s where we’re going to have problems,” he said.