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Local COVID-19 cases now total 2,011, health officials support UWL 'shelter in place' order
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Local COVID-19 cases now total 2,011, health officials support UWL 'shelter in place' order

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The Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative relayed concern about the local rise in cases Wednesday and expressed support for UW-La Crosse’s two-week stay-in-place order.

The Collaborative’s webpage, which is updated on Wednesdays, showed an average of 100 cases per day during the seven-day period ending Sept. 15, with a 47% positivity rate.

As of Tuesday, the community had 961 active cases of the coronavirus. According to Wisconsin Department of Health Data, La Crosse County cases increased by 122 on Wednesday, with 50 attributed to individuals age 10 to 19 and 54 to those 20-29.

Total cases have reached 2,011, and on Wednesday The New York Times put La Crosse at No. 1 on the list of fastest rise in new cases of any metro area in the U.S. per 100,000 people over the seven days.

One week ago La Crosse had 130 new cases, and now has had 626 new cases in the past seven days, with a difference of 363 cases per 100,000.

Since the pandemic hit locally in March, more than half of all coronavirus cases in La Crosse County have been in patients in their 20s. Demographic information from the most recent seven-day period, including ages, was not available as of press time.

“The recent marked increase in positive COVID-19 cases among 20-29 year-olds who live in our community has far-reaching impacts,” the La Crosse County Health Department said in a release. “Many of these young people are college students and all are important members of our community. Many are young professionals, members of young families, and workers who fill vital roles in the local workforce.”

Earlier this week, UW-La Crosse made the decision to close campus buildings and issue a shelter-in-place order for all campus housing facilities for two weeks.

Some parents and students have questioned the aggressiveness of the response. However, Collaborative member Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of Mayo Clinic Health System believes it was a warranted action and should be honored by students and staff.

“I credit the medical team at the university — they are working incredibly hard ...,” Fitzgerald said. “You can look at UW-L as a campus as an endemic area, a high-risk area with a lot of virus. (With a) positivity rate over 70%, anyone in that area has probably been exposed, and putting a hold on the area I think is a very legitimate response.”

Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department, adds the university was “quickly maxing out isolation and quarantine spaces” and notes there are pros and cons to the order.

“There is no black-and-white answer, no one-size-fits-all in this situation,” Rombalski said. “...These students were given a two-hour notice and many left campus, which concerns us since it means they may bring disease home to their families.”

Another consideration, Rombalski said, is that “many of these individuals work and need to support themselves and we don’t want to see unintended consequences.”

For students employed at elder-care facilities and youth organizations, going to work while asymptomatic could cause quick spread. However, if those without symptoms or a positive coronavirus test refrain from working, places in crucial need of staffing could be short handed.

“It’s a tough situation all around,” Rombalski said.

At UW-L, both PCR and antigen tests are available for COVID-19. Only PCR tests are counted as confirmed cases, and Fitzgerald says they are very rarely falsely positive, with more than 99% accuracy. Antigen tests are generally used as preliminary testing, as the results are quicker though less accurate.

College COVID-19 Dashboard updates

The UW-L COVID-19 dashboard, updated daily, indicated no new PCR tests were administered Tuesday, while 10 out of the 129 given antigen tests given were positive. UW-L currently has 81 isolation rooms occupied.

Western Technical College’s dashboard, which is updated on Wednesdays, reported seven active COVID-19 cases among students as of Sept. 16. This is up two cases from the previous seven-day period.

As of Sept. 14, Viterbo has 63 students currently infected with the virus, according to the university’s dashboard.

The Collaborative is closely working with universities and school districts to monitor case rates and provide guidance.

Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative metric update

Metric status for the week ending Sept. 13 (seven-day rolling average):

  • New case rate: 67.9 per 100,000/day (rising, red/caution category)
  • New hospitalization rate: 2.36 per 100,000/day (satisfactory, green category)
  • Hospitalization Care Capacity: all patients can be quickly tested and cared for (green)
  • Cases interviewed within two days, 85% goal: 60.1% (unmet, red)
  • Identified contacts traced, 90% goal: 73.5% (unmet, red)
  • Contacts reached within 1-2 days, 75% goal: 64.2% (unmet, red)
  • Daily testing goal,75% goal: 238.6% (met, green)
  • Testing turnaround time, 85% within two days goal: 92.6% (met, green)
  • Positive test ratio, under 10% goal: 34.4% (unmet, red)

Statewide Data

Wisconsin reported 1,408 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, for a running total of 92,712 lab-confirmed positives. Negative tests total 1,295,313, an increase of 10,788 since yesterday. An additional 48 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus, with 6,454 ever hospitalized. Eight more patients have died from COVID-19, bringing fatalities to 1,228.

Community recommendations

Given the information from these metrics and the growing case rates in La Crosse County, the Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative highly recommends the following to assure a safe and healthy community

  • If you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, stay home and reach out to healthcare to get tested.
  • If you have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive, quarantine for 14 days and only get tested if symptoms occur. If you are asymptomatic, only get tested if you develop symptoms or are advised by county health officials.
  • If you need to be tested, call medical facilities prior to arrival for screening purposes and pre-registration.
  • Wear a mask and keep a six-foot distance when with others outside your household.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
  • Businesses should prioritize and/or resume active screening of employees. Symptomatic employees should stay home.
  • Organizations that care for populations vulnerable to COVID-19 including older adults, individuals at high risk or with underlying health conditions, etc. should limit visitors and increase screening of employees.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.
  • Personal social gatherings are not recommended.
  • Minimize mass gatherings in businesses, public buildings, and venues. Capacity should be limited to 25% of total capacity or 50 people indoors or 100 outdoors, whichever is less. Masks and physical distancing should be required.
  • Avoid businesses and locations that are not following recommendations on masks, physical distancing and capacity limits.

“What we do today and the decisions we make today will impact us in one to two weeks,” Rombalski said. “We need to take action now to follow these recommendations.”

Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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