In the space of a week, new cases of COVID-19 in Price County have more than tripled, standing at 61 active cases as of Tuesday afternoon — up from 16 on Sept. 28. As of Monday, there were three Price County residents hospitalized due to complications of the virus.
All individuals who test positive for the virus must self-isolate within their houses for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, unless their condition deteriorates to the point they need to be hospitalized. To be considered non-contagious, a person’s symptoms must be steadily improving and they need to have been fever-free for three consecutive days without fever-suppressing medication.
The county has now had a total of 124 confirmed cases of the virus, 63 of which have recovered. A total of eight people have been hospitalized for symptoms related to the virus since the start of the pandemic. According to information released by the Wisconsin Department of Health based on census tracts, the majority of cases have occurred in southeastern Price County and northern Price County, followed by the west central portion of the county. There have been 13 confirmed cases in southwestern Price County and eight in central Price County.
After months of low case numbers, it has been difficult to pinpoint a specific cause of the spike in cases, according to Price County Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards. The spread appears to be originating from social gatherings of all sizes, both public and private, and has been exacerbated by high numbers of close contacts.
A close contact is defined as anyone who spends 15 or more accumulative minutes within a six-foot radius of a contagious person within a 24-hour period. The person may not be aware they are contagious at the time of interaction, since the virus can be present without symptoms for several days.
“When this [pandemic] first started, we were recommending people keep to about five close contacts, and we are getting many many more than that,” said Edwards.
After receiving notice that there has been a confirmed case of the virus in the county, public health department employees reach out to that individual and create a list of all close contacts. Each of those close contacts is called by phone, notified they are a close contact, referred for testing, and informed they should quarantine in their homes for 14 days. Public health employees continue to remain in daily contact with each of those individuals — both the confirmed case and close contacts — to monitor symptoms.
With the spike in cases and correlated increase of close contacts to notify, the amount of time Price County Public Health’s four nurses are spending on contact tracing is quickly spiraling out of control.
Public health staff are currently working approximately 10 hours a day, seven days a week — and even so are falling behind on calling all the close contacts.
“In the past when we learned that there was a positive case in the county, we would contact them and their close contacts within a single day,” explained Edwards. “Now it’s taking two or three days before we even get around to calling them.”
In order to try to keep up with the contact tracing, Edwards said the department plans to hire limited term employees to assist with the labor — hopefully within the week since new cases continue to accumulate each day.
The rise in cases cannot be linked to community spread in the county’s three K-12 schools, according to Edwards, although each school has had at least one confirmed case of the virus in a student or staff member.
“For the positives we’ve had in the schools, none of their close contacts in school have tested positive,” Edwards explained.
Neither are the cases linked to college students who may test positive while on campuses outside of Price County. While their primary address may be listed as Price County, any positives that occur in someone living outside of the county for an extended period of time will be attributed to the county they currently reside in. Even if an error is made and the positive is attributed to Price County, Edwards said that the error would be discovered and corrected during the follow-up phone calls conducted by the health department.
Local clinics continue to offer daily drive-through testing, according to Edwards.
Regional case numbers continue to grow
Of the neighboring counties that are reporting their active case numbers, Oneida County is leading the pack with 127 currently active cases. There have been a total of 453 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic and 304 recoveries. Complications of the virus have resulted in 25 hospitalizations and two deaths. There have been 8,533 negative test results in the county.
Lincoln County currently has 84 currently active cases. There have been 229 confirmed cases and 144 recoveries. Complications of the virus have resulted in 19 hospitalizations and one death. There have been 4,965 negative tests.
Vilas County currently has 68 active cases. The county has documented 224 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, 115 of which have recovered. The virus has resulted in four hospitalizations and one death. There have been 4,892 negative test results.
Sawyer County has had 214 confirmed cases, 23 of which are active, and 190 of which have recovered. The county reports it is monitoring an additional 103 individuals for symptoms. There has been one death and eight hospitalizations. A total of 4,541 tests have returned negative.
Rusk County has had a total of 65 confirmed cases, 17 of which are active, and 48 of which have recovered. There has been one death attributed to the virus. A total of 2,416 tests have returned negative.
Iron County has had 141 confirmed cases of the virus and 136 recoveries. The county has not released current information on active cases. There have been seven hospitalizations and one death attributed to the virus. A total of 1,497 tests have returned negative.
Taylor County has had 191 confirmed cases of the virus, and four deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 2,839 tests have returned negative. No current information has been released on recoveries or active cases.
Ashland County has had 132 confirmed cases of the virus, and is actively monitoring 293 individuals for symptoms of the virus. A total of 40 people have recovered, and there have been seven hospitalizations and two deaths. A total of 4,678 tests have returned negative.
As of Monday, a total of 1,522,965 Wisconsinites have tested positive for the virus, 96,727 of which have recovered. There have been 1,405,377 negative test results. There are 19,560 active cases in the state. The virus has been attributed as the cause of 1,283 deaths and 7,142 hospitalizations in Wisconsin.