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With 21 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, La Crosse County remains in severe risk category

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The La Crosse County Health Department reported another 21 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total to 335.

Of the new cases, 14 are in their 20s, three in their 30s, one each in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and the last a child age 4 or younger.

Of the total cases, 132 are considered recovered and four are being hospitalized due to the virus. There have not yet been any local deaths from COVID-19, and there have been 10,152 negative tests. 

Wisconsin has had 25,763 lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 487,803 negative test results. There have been 3,299 related hospitalizations and 757 deaths.

From June 17 to June 23, La Crosse County had 171 lab-confirmed cases, as well as 69 cases the week before. The two-week total of 240 is a drastic increase from the 14-day stretch prior, during which there were 31 positive tests. 

"This is not a result of increased testing, this is a result of increased spread," Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department, said during a Wednesday press conference. However, most days the county is "maxing out" testing capacity, she says, and is not able to test any close contacts not displaying symptoms.

The La Crosse County Health Department has applied for three more Wisconsin National Guard free testing days to be held before August. 

According to the Coulee COVID-19 Compass, which tabulates risk level on a weekly basis using factors of epidemiology, health care and public health statuses, the area is in the severe category.

Rombalski says she has met with Mayor Tim Kabat to discuss concerns about the trend in case numbers, and is engaging members of the business community on precautionary actions.

With bars making up about half of the high-risk establishments identified by the La Crosse County Health Department, and the majority of recent cases attributed to individuals in their 20s, Rombalski is also working to increase the cooperation and virus education of younger adults. 

"Until we can find a solution to the root cause I come back to my asks of all of you that you take this virus seriously," Rombalski said, reiterating staying home if experiencing any symptoms such as fever, runny nose or cough, washing hands, physical distancing and wearing a face covering in public.

This extends to employees in their place of work, with Rombalski citing a recent incident with an infectious employee who came to work despite symptoms and engaged closely with unmasked coworkers. 

"We have to raise the level of awareness," Rombalski says, who also urged community members not to "negatively judge people who have come down with COVID-19."

"Judging and stigmatizing can be potentially very harmful," Rombalski says, with individuals reticent to share the names of contacts or inform their employer of positive test results for fear of criticism or "retribution." 

"This is about battling a virus," Rombalski reiterated.

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

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