For the second week in a row, the number of new positive COVID-19 cases in Sawyer County has increased exponentially — nearly doubling the number of positive cases from the previous week.
Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons reported Tuesday morning, Aug. 11, there were 78 positives for the county, up 34 from the 44 cases reported one week before on Aug. 4.
The number of new positives began tracking upward over the last three weeks:
• Seven new cases between July 23 and 28;
• 18 new cases between July 29 and Aug. 4; and
• 34 new cases between Aug. 5 and 11.
The number of new cases is reflected in a USA Today Network Pandemic Watch report for Wisconsin for COVID-19. It reveals that as of Monday, Aug. 10, Sawyer County, with its 176 cases per 100,000 population, had the fourth-highest number of positive cases per 100,000 for the last seven days.
For the last seven days, all of the top four counties per population density (not total number of positive cases) are rural counties, revealing how the COVID-19 pandemic has spread from the urban centers where they originally appeared in March.
Neighboring counties have many fewer cases per 100,000: Douglas, 118; Ashland, 53; Bayfield, 32; Price, 97; Rusk, 35; Barron, 80; and Washburn, 82.
Lyons hadn't seen the USA Today Network report using Wisconsin Department of Health Services data, but noted that cumulatively, looking at all the cases since February, Sawyer County's cases per 100,000 had been one of the lower ones in the state. But she is also not surprised the most recent seven-day tracking puts the county in the top four.
“Once we start to double I expect we will keep rising until we level off,” she said. “We were low for so long, and once it starts to go it really starts to go up — and that's what we've seen in other counties.”
Lyons believes the county will get a “handle” on the increase and the rate will level off.
“We get a handle on it by people being a little more concerned with whom they are with and what they are doing and by people masking and staying six feet away and then using isolation and quarantine on the cases,” she said. “All that helps us get a handle on it.”
Lyons also reports that 32 of the 78 positive cases have recovered. Three have been hospitalized.
In a new category, Lyon also reports her department is also “following” another 160.
“These 160 have been tested because of a close contact or were symptomatic, but we don't have the test results back yet,” she said.
Last week, Lyons told the Record that up to 50% of the new cases couldn't be traced to a specific positive contact, but this week she said most of the new positives have been linked to another positive.
“There are very few people whom we can't link to where they got it,” she said.
According to Lyons, Sawyer County is following a typical pattern where at the beginning of the pandemic it is difficult to identify the source of the infection but as more positives cases are found more links begin to reveal how it spreads.
Another significant issue related to the number of new positives is the projected opening of K-12 schools in a couple of weeks. Lyons said Hayward School Board members are watching the increasing number of cases, and she anticipates there could be last-minute protocol changes in the schools.
“I think the boards within all the school districts are keeping a very close eye on the numbers and will react accordingly,” she said.
Tribe: Shelter at Home
After five tribal members had tested positive on Aug. 4, Tribal Chairman Louis Taylor issued a statement of concern.
Then, the rising number of positives in the past week prompted the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board to issue a Shelter at Home resolution.
It reads in part: “. . . it is highly recommended that persons leave their homes or places of residence only for essential activities, essential government functions (includes voting and other civic duties), or to operate essential businesses and operations . . .”
The resolution’s list of essential activities for leaving home includes: addressing health care needs, care of family members and friends, and work. It also lists several essential government functions and businesses.
Also responding to the growing threat, Gary Girard, tribal Health Center director/public health officer, announced the following large-scale testing at the tribal pavilion:
• Tuesday, Aug. 18 (250 tests): from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
• Thursday, Aug. 20 (150 tests): from 9 a.m. to noon.
Two Sawyer County restaurants noted on their Facebook sites that an employee at each had tested positive and each of the restaurants had temporarily closed pending cleaning and clearing of the employees to safely return to work.
On Aug. 3 the Robin’s Nest posted a notice that an employee had tested positive and that it would close its doors for sanitation and cleaning. Then over the weekend it announced a reopening for Monday, Aug. 10.
The Chippewa Inn also noted in the previous week that an employee had tested positive and indicated it would reopen this Friday, Aug. 14.
Lyons also reported that more than three people who had tested positive had visited Hayward Fitness Fanatics. But she noted the people affected also socialize together outside of the facility, so there had been no determination of precisely where they had contracted the virus. She said the cases were at least three weeks old, but through contact tracing she is continuing to follow up on any concerns.