The COVID-19 pandemic is trending in a direction that health experts have been fearing for months — and there are no signs it will take a downward turn soon.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, Sawyer County had recorded 685 positive cases, up a record 174 cases from the 511 recorded on Monday, Nov. 9, more than double the number of new cases added during the previous week.
Across the state of Wisconsin the situation continues to be alarming. On Monday, Nov. 16, a total of 7,090 new positives were reported, 92 people died and another 318 were admitted to hospitals. Around the state and even locally, hospitals are nearing capacity, and there is concern that high-level intensive care units at regional tertiary hospitals, such as in Duluth and Eau Claire, may not be available to accept the most severe cases.
The community spread is so prevalent that it has prompted the county’s three school systems — LCO, Hayward and Winter — to return to mostly online education versus in-class attendance.
LCO K-12 Principal/Supt. Jessica Hutchinson may have expressed the frustration for all school administrators, noting they have been following the recommended practices inside the schools, but the number of new positives in the community has overwhelmed their best efforts.
And in spite of months of repeated recommendations and health guidance, there are still people, including public officials and community leaders, who appear in public without wearing a mask to protect others and themselves from stopping the spread of the disease.
The recent spike in cases also has led to frustration among the medical staff treating COVID-19 patients. Health care workers have been pleading with community to practice social distancing (staying six feet apart from others), wear a mask in public and wash hands as measures to risk the spread of COVID-19.
“There is a frustration level amongst the superintendents because we have been working so hard to keep these schools open and doing everything we can to not have spread within the schools,” said Julia Lyons, Sawyer County public health officer. “We want those kids to have an in-person education, but we can’t when it spreading this much.”
Lyons said the long lag-time in receiving a test result is impacting schools because students and staff who have symptoms are not allowed back to the school building until the test result is known.
“We have to keep them out until we know it is COVID or not,” she said. “That’s really tough on the schools.”
Hutchinson said the primary reason LCO school went virtual is because it had so many staff out on quarantine it couldn’t hire enough substitute teachers to replace them.
A number of national health care experts have asked people to consider not having a traditional large gathering for the upcoming Thanksgiving.
“Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are fun but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu,” said a “Celebrating Thanksgiving” advisory from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Besides wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing, the CDC recommends the following for Thanksgiving:
1. Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.
2. Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled.
3. Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets and disposable items like food containers, plates and utensils.
Other CDC suggestions include:
• Limit the number of guests.
• Set expectations for the guests concerning safe practices before they arrive.
• Clean areas frequently that are being used during the gathering.
• If possible, keep windows open.
• Get a flu shot before traveling.
• Consider sharing a meal visually online on Zoom.
Before gathering, Lyons said people should consider the risk to people they live with and the risk to those they invite.
“Consider your 90-year-old grandma,” she said. “If you are going out and working in the public and eating in restaurants and bars and being exposed to other people, you are increasing the risk to her.”
She added, “If you want to connect with others, how can you do that while social distancing? Is there space you can socially distance and support one another?”
Lyons suggests that families consider a Zoom feast — sharing the experience of gathering from separate locations via the internet.
“If you are having people over, keep it as small as possible,” Lyons said. “Even if someone is sick, you are not impacting as many people. And remember, there is a wide range symptoms. Younger people tend not to be as sick, but older people tend to get sicker. We need to respect and care for our elders.”
Recently a second national pharmaceutical company announced it has an effective COVID-19 vaccine in the pipeline that will be ready for distribution next year. Lyons is creating a vaccination plan for the county now, but the earliest she expects any vaccine to be available will be January 2021.
“If we get it before then, that will be a pleasant happening for us,” she said.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, COVID-19 positive cases had surged to 685 in Sawyer County. Lyons said on Saturday, Nov. 14, her team had recorded 31 positives for that day alone.
Of the 685 positives, 500 have recovered, 180 are active cases and five have died. The fifth person who died last week, like the other four, was someone over age 60.
There are also six probable cases in the county — those who have not been tested for COVID-19, but have many of the symptoms.
Contact tracers are monitoring 132 who are in quarantine.
Twenty-six individuals have been hospitalized. This number will probably increase noticeably as Hayward Area Memorial Hospital is reporting the number of COVID-19 patients occupying a bed has raised their census to twice the normal occupancy for this time of year.
Since testing began, 6,057 tests have returned negative, including several people who have tested negative more than once.