COULEE REGION - So, what’s the status of COVUD-19 infection in our area right now and what is the advice of local public health officials?
“It’s still happening just at a lesser rate for our region,” Crawford County Public Health Officer Cindy Riniker said earlier this week. “I really can’t say what’s happening in the eastern part of the state. It’s definitely not under control nationally.”
“People need to continue to take care of themselves,” said Linda Nederlo, the Vernon County Health Department Public Information Officer. “This is not over.”
It was reported this week that the COVID-19 death toll nationally is over 110,000.
In the past week the number of COVID-19 diagnoses statewide increased from 18,543 on June 1 to 21,038 on June 8. The number of deaths increased from 514 to 595, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Locally, Crawford County has reported 26 confirmed positive cases and all have recovered. Only two of those were hospitalized and only one of the hospitalized was put on a respirator. As of Tuesday, June 9, 1,219 people have been tested. Of the 26 positives, nine were from Prairie du Chien and seven were from central Crawford County.
What’s surprising about the 26 positives is that approximately a third of them were asymptomatic, according to Riniker. Those cases were tested and found positive because they were part of a mass testing sample, or they were located through contact tracing form another positive test, or a medical facility found them through pre-operative testing prior to a scheduled surgery on an unrelated medical condition.
Among the asymptomatic people found to be positive, there was usually some disbelief about the test result. Some claimed they felt fine and couldn’t possibly be positive. Some had to be convinced the test was accurate and they needed to quarantine for 10 days.
Vernon County had been at 21 confirmed positive tests for several days, but another positive showed up over the weekend to bring their total to 22.
Richland County has 14 confirmed positive tests. LaCrosse County has __ positives.
Other nearby counties have not fared as well. Grant County has 99 confirmed cases and 12 COVID-19-related deaths. Allamakee County in Iowa has a whopping 120 cases and at least four deaths among a population of less than 14,000.
Both Riniker and Nederlo recommend wearing face masks or coverings especially when the six-foot social distancing can’t be maintained. Both public health officials also continue to advocate for frequent handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer. Nederlo adds this especially important for children
Riniker said that the situation with the disease is constantly changing, as new information and advice based on it emerges.
“This disease is so mysterious.” Nederlo said. “There’s no concrete guidance to follow. There’s a mystery to the whole thing.”
While it has been reported that over 80 percent of the people who have died were over 65 years old, Nederlo was quick to point out that younger people and children have died of COVID-19 infection.
Both public health officials feel that more testing will help them to figure out better responses to pandemic going forward.
To that end, Crawford County Public Health has scheduled a mass drive-up testing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in a parking lot near the high school. (A story on the drive-up testing with more details appears on page two of this edition.) The free testing is for anyone who had any of the multiple listed symptoms or someone who may have experienced no symptoms, but feels they me be among the asymptomatic carriers. For more information on the free public testing Friday in Prairie du Chine, see the story on page two.
The Wisconsin National Guard will be conducting the tests and are prepared to give about 450 tests.
Crawford Public Health tested everyone at the two long-term care nursing homes. With the help of the National Guard, they did over 100 tests at Prairie Maison in Prairie du Chien and found one positive. The person, who tested positive, was asymptomatic. Nevertheless, that person did 10 days of quarantine in response to the positive test.
Crawford County Public Health conducted the testing at Soldiers Grove Health Services and there were no positives among that testing.
A mass testing of the Prairie du Chien Correctional Facility by the National Guard is scheduled in the near future.
So, what about school this fall? Will mandatory testing of students be required?
“I don’t know,” Riniker said. “But if they’re going to do it for colleges, why not the schools?”
On the mandatory testing of school students, Nederlo said that the biggest deciding factor will be the parents.
“The school districts will need to work with the students, the parents and staff,” Nederlo said.
Public health has gotten some guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Further guidance from DPI is scheduled to be released by June 15. Nederlo said lots of questions remain for the schools.
“It starts with the parents,” Nederlo said. “Do the parents want the children to be in the school? Is the staff willing to teach the students and under what conditions? Can the food service employees be protected while they prepare and serve the food? What about the bus drivers?”
So, keep up the precautions is the advice from local public health officials. Keep social distancing, use masks, continue hand washing and sanitizing. Remember you’re safer at home.
Coulee COVID Compass
After a successful debut in La Crosse County on May 29th, health departments in Buffalo County, Crawford County, Jackson County, La Crosse County, Monroe County, Trempealeau County, and Vernon County have partnered to develop and launch the Coulee COVID-19 Compass.
“COVID-19 doesn’t respect county borders, so collaboration and partnerships with our neighboring counties is critical,” said Beth Johnson, Director and Health Officer for Vernon County Health Department.
This tool will use each county’s data to identify each county’s level of risk related to COVID-19. This risk level will guide recommendations for each county’s residents. It will also allow the public to see the data for neighboring counties and the region at a glance.
“The Compass responds to data so we can make timely recommendations on current risks. The tool is responsive because we anticipate that COVID-19 will ebb and flow in our communities,” said April Loeffler, Health Officer and Public Health Supervisor for Buffalo County Health and Human Services.
The Coulee COVID-19 Compass provides risk assessment using 10 data points in three categories (Epidemiology Status what the disease is doing, Healthcare Capacity, and Public Health Capacity).
These data move the Compass needle between four risk levels (Severe, High, Moderate, Low). As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the health departments anticipate changes to the risk level over time.
It is expected that the needle will move responsively between lower and higher risk levels as our communities experience waves of the virus. This will occur until a vaccine or treatment is widely available.The regional version of the Coulee COVID-19 Compass will be available for viewing at http://covid19compass.org on Wednesday, June 10, at 12 pm.