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First 2 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in La Crosse County
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Tara Johnson, La Crosse County Board chair, leads a press conference March 18 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center attended by county officials and area health care providers. For updates on the pandemic in the La Crosse area, click here.

The La Crosse County Health Department announced Wednesday morning that two area residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have been notified as of this morning the first confirmed lab test of a La Crosse County resident,” Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department, said during a press conference. “Shortly after that lab came in, another positive test came in. ... We anticipated we would have cases in La Crosse County — this is not surprising. We do not need to panic — we knew this would happen.”

Both confirmed cases of the virus are attributed to women in their late 20s to 40s, one of whom is in a residence of four or five other people and the other living with two family members. It is expected that those who share their households will contract the virus.

There are no members in either household considered at high risk — which includes those older than 60 and individuals with compromised immune systems — for severe symptoms.

As for community members the women may have come in contact with, Rombalski said, “I think, while we can’t say there is no risk, the risk is low.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

La Crosse County Health Department Director Jen Rombalski confirms the first positive cases of COVID-19 in the county Wednesday during a press conference at the County Administrative Center.

The two women have experienced mild to moderate symptoms including fever, cough and body aches, and were tested March 16 after three to four days of symptoms.

“It’s looking to us the range of days is three to six days of when they were exposed to when they showed symptoms,” Rombalski said.

One of the individuals did not have a history of travel, and the other had a travel history but “not at the level where we would have typically tested,” Rombalski says.

“These individuals are currently being isolated in their homes and the health department is conducting interviews with them,” Rombalski says.

Pfaff

Molling

Bridget Pfaff, infection control specialist at Gundersen Health System, and Dr. Paul Molling of Mayo Clinic Health System note there is currently a national shortage of testing, and only those who meet the criteria will be tested.

Patients at Gundersen and Mayo must call ahead if they are experiencing COVID-19 associated symptoms, and will be directed to come to the facility or go to either hospital’s drive-through testing service. A test cannot be demanded, and those who share a residence with a person who tested positive will not be given a test, as it is presumed they will become infected.

In addition, tests will not be administered at the end of the 14-day quarantine, because in a two-week period the virus will have run its course.

More cases of COVID-19 are iminent, Rombalski says, noting, “These are unprecedented times.”

It is advised that community members stock enough medicine, food and toiletries to last two weeks should they be confined to their homes. Unessential shopping trips or excursions are not advised, and Rombalski suggests using delivery or pick-up options.

“Being in your house is where you need to be right now if at all possible,” Rombalski says.

Pfaff reminds individuals that while they might usually go to work with mild symptoms like a runny nose, this is not the time to power through and go to the office.

Molling notes it is “up to each one of us individually” to practice prevention tactics, including social distancing, thorough hand washing and sanitation.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson takes questions Wednesday during a press conference at the County Administrative Center. Two county residents were confirmed positive for COVID-19.

The confirmation of local cases of COVID-19 will likely raise the level of concern among community members, and Molling urges people to “please remain calm. ... We don’t want hysteria.”

The results of any tests administered at Gundersen and Mayo will be relayed to the La Crosse County Health Department within one to two days, and the patient who tested positive will be notified first, followed by an alert to the media within one to two hours. The public will be kept abreast of all confirmed cases.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors will take up a resolution to declare a state of emergency in La Crosse County.

“These are changing times. We used to think it was weekly or daily and now it’s by the minute,” said Tara Johnson, County Board chair. “We are a very strong community. We are a strong state and nation and at a local level the collaboration and working together that is happening in relation to COVID-19 is truly impressive. ... I say to us as a community, this is what we need at this time and this is exactly what we expect of ourselves when there is a challenge in the community.”


The corner of Pearl Street and 4th Street in downtown La Crosse is unusually quiet Wednesday as Arthur Neville-Niel sips his coffee. A state-wide takeout only policy for bars, restaurants, coffee shops and other establishments went into effect on Tuesday at 5 p.m. For more on how the ongoing pandemic is affecting local residents and businesses, turn to HOMETOWN, PAGE A5.


Crime-and-courts
La Crosse law enforcement adapt to challenges of COVID-19

Wolf

La Crosse County law enforcement agencies were adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday by taking measures to reduce the number of people — inmates and visitors — in the La Crosse County Jail.

Officers are doing what they can to reduce trips to the La Crosse County Jail, screening people for symptoms during the booking process and taking advantage of Tuesday’s judicial order allowing them to issue signature bonds for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

Law enforcement personnel Tuesday were granted the authority to issue signature bonds for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses by the La Crosse County Circuit Court; however, that’s by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card, according to La Crosse County Sheriff Jeff Wolf, especially when it comes to violent felonies.

“There’s no question, they’re still going to go to jail. By all means, it’s not a free pass for everybody,” he said.

Police officers and sheriff deputies will have the option to issue signature bonds to avoid a trip to the La Crosse County Jail and keep the numbers of people in custody down to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The move was only part of the court’s effort to comply with health officials’ recommendations to help contain the virus.

“We’re not going to jeopardize public safety, but we’re going to do our best to protect jail staff,” Wolf said.

However, just because officers can issue signature bonds, doesn’t mean they necessarily will in all incidents. It’s a matter of balancing the public health and safety of the community.

Shawn Kudron, La Crosse Police Chief

“This is just giving us a broader way to approach incidents where we would need to take somebody into custody and charge them with a crime,” La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron said.

Officers will have the authority to issue a signature bond and set an initial appearance for 45 days out if they believe the person will not present an immediate danger to the community. The defendant would need to appear; if not, a judge would issue an arrest warrant.

“We’re balancing this information on the safety of our citizens and the specific incidents that are happening,” Kudron said. “There are still some people who are going to need to be taken to the La Crosse County Jail.”

Kudron said officers were being “extremely judicious” with domestic violence cases.

“We’re being very careful with those. We’re looking at those very thoroughly,” he said.

While most domestic violence incidents are misdemeanors, some can be very violent. Officers are depending on a pre-existing lethality assessment, oversight from supervisors and guidance from the La Crosse County District Attorney Office.

“This discretion is just simply allowing us different ways to essentially do our job at this point,” Kudron said.

Law enforcement can also speak to a judge if they have any questions.

When it comes to the jail, the sheriff has been working with sheriffs across the state and with the Department of Corrections to determine and share best practices.

People who are taken to the jail are screened for symptoms during the booking process.

“Right now our medical provider has a screening process. If they show the symptoms, we’ve got medical contacts to determine if somebody needs to be tested,” Wolf said.

Wolf has eliminated public access to the jail, including visitors and volunteers, and opened up private cells during the day to give inmates more room to maintain social distancing recommendations. The jail also has medical areas designated for individuals with communicable diseases.

Wolf said he was confident that the jail could handle a case of coronavirus if one was found in the jail, saying La Crosse was ahead of the curve.

Kudron’s department is prioritizing ensuring continuity of service and ensuring public safety, he said, even if it means doing more interviews and meetings by phone or teleconferencing.

“The police department is here and doing everything we can during this time to keep the community safe, continue serving our community and doing what we can to get through this time,” Kudron said.


Local
Gundersen, Mayo specialists advise maintaining structure with COVID-19 school closures

Allmon-Dixson

Karen Hall

As children and teens find themselves navigating an unprecedented number of days not being in the classroom, area behavioral health experts are stressing the importance of daily structure.

As a COVID-19 precaution, Gov. Evers’ issued all schools to close through at least mid April, and with the mandate youth — and their parents — are dealing with interruptions to education, work and socialization, stressors compounded by virus-related fears.

Dr. Allison Allmon Dixson, pediatric psychologist and behavioral health consultant for Gundersen Health System, and Karen Hall, M.S., L.P.C. in child and adolescent behavioral health at Mayo Clinic Health System, have been receiving an abundance of queries from parents and kids in light of COVID-19, with concerns ranging from occupying time to coping with anxiety. Among the most broached issues, Allmon Dixson and Hall say, is the lack of schedule.

“My strongest piece of advice is to stick to a routine, or if they don’t have one to build it,” Allmon Dixon says.

This includes following a mock school day, starting with waking at the usual weekday time and getting dressed. Allmon Dixon advises reading during the time English class usually occurs, tackling math during the same hours as at school and doing exercise or heading outdoors at the normal physical education or recess period. In turn, bed and meal times should remain consistent.

Hall has found her teen patients are most concerned about utilizing their time and how school and business closures, and social distancing, will affect their lifestyle. Hall suggests having a meeting as a family to go over what the coming weeks will look like in terms of homework, screen time and jobs.

“It’s important to maintain a sense of normalcy,” Hall says.

Making each day productive is a good way to keep minds and bodies occupied, and Hall encourages that teens, if their parents are comfortable with it, offer to assist neighbors and friends with childcare.

Hall says a relaxation on screen-time limits, especially as kids are missing the peer interaction from school and activities, may be something for parents to consider but stresses the importance of prioritizing meeting school and household requirements first. Hall recommends digital activities, such as virtual tours of museums and national parks, as a way of coupling technology and learning.

When it comes to sharing COVID-19 facts and managing related anxieties, Allmon Dixson advises reminding kids that the people around them are doing everything possible to keep them safe and happy, and to respond to any questions with an individualized, honest and factual response.

“A lot of this is developmentally and child-dependent,” Allmon Dixson says of answering appropriately and effectively. “Make sure you are calming and reassuring and limit their access to the news — too much information can exacerbate anxiety. When you answer them, give them accurate information, and if you don’t know the answer it’s OK to say you’re unsure.”

In terms of news coverage, Hall stresses the importance of directing teens to reputable outlets and avoiding the comments sections, where misinformation and panic spreading is rampant.

“Parents can say, ‘This is serious, but we’re going to handle it together,’” Hall says.

When it comes to reducing angst about the pandemic, Allmon Dixson suggests helping them feel control by practicing ways to reduce COVID-19 spread, including thorough handwashing, and coming up with small goals to meet each day or week.

In turn, both Allmon Dixson and Hall urge parents to keep themselves mentally and physically well by taking some personal time and finding their own support system. Suggestions include speaking with fellow parents or a partner about stresses and fears in an uncertain time, engaging in positive self talk, deep breathing and putting aside an hour to relax with a book or take a walk.

With many parents and kids now spending several more hours a day together, families should also be prepared for some cabin fever and the bickering that inevitably comes with lack of personal and physical space. Taking some much-needed time apart, even if just to respective bedrooms, can help preserve everyone’s sanity.

“How are we going to tolerate being a little bit cooped up? Maybe have a bit of downtime scheduled where we all go to our separate corners and take a break,” Hall advises.

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