by CHRIS ROGERS
Trempealeau County health officials cautioned citizens after the rural county saw 98 new infections in one week — its worst yet. County health officer Barb Barczak said the surge was stretching her department’s ability to complete contract tracing in a timely manner, and her office pointed to social gatherings as a major source of virus transmission.
“We need people to take this seriously and stay home if you have any symptom of COVID-19 or are a close contact to someone who tested positive,” Barczak urged.
Coronavirus infections in Trempealeau County had calmed down somewhat in late August and early September — as little as 15 cases per week — but new infections began multiplying quickly within the last two weeks and hit 98 new cases in seven days on Friday. Health officials called the increase “substantial” and pointed out that it puts the county into a severe risk category under the county’s new guidelines.
““It is important to remember that people can spread COVID-19 before becoming symptomatic,” health officials wrote in a press release. “Recently, more people with COVID-19 are reporting being at social gatherings in the two weeks prior to symptom onset. This is contributing to increased spread in our community. We continue to recommend staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask in public, and keeping a six-foot distance between yourself and others.”
Arcadia still has the most active cases of any city in the county (18.5 percent of all active cases), but Trempealeau (14.6 percent) and Whitehall (12.6 percent) are up there, too.
Health officials are offering free COVID-19 testing at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau Middle School, 19650 Prairie Ridge Lane, Galesville, Wis., tomorrow, Saturday, September 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is for any Wisconsin resident age 5 or older experiencing at least one symptom of COVID-19 or for anyone who has been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath or difficult breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell.
Winona County infections moderate; nursing homes report cases
Winona County’s rate of new infections improved, but remained moderately high, with 68 new cases this week compared to 95 last week — not including a backlog of old cases reported last Friday.
The official MDH 14-day case rate for Winona County fell to 44.64 on Thursday, down from 68 last week. The MDH recommends school district consider distance learning for secondary students when the 14-day case rate exceeds 30. Winona Area Public Schools recently brought secondary students back into schools for a hybrid of distance and in-person learning. District officials saying that, after consulting with public health experts, they were confident the numbers would fall in the near future. Based on reported cases, Winona County is not there yet. The county still reported 32 new cases per 10,000 residents in the last 14 days, not counting the backlog of old cases reported last Friday.
On Friday, the MDH reported cases of COVID-19 at multiple long-term care facilities in Winona. Because of the high number of cases and high percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive in Winona County as whole, the MDH requires local long-term care facilities to test all residents and staff regularly. Fortunately, that testing caught several cases at local nursing homes.
Over a three-week period, three staff members at Winona Health’s Lake Winona Manor tested positive, administrator Linda Atkinson reported. There have no new cases since, she said, adding that an audit of infection control practices found no mistakes.
A resident at Callista Court, an assisted living facility in Winona, tested positive for COVID-19, and one staff member did as well, executive director Carol Ehlinger wrote on the facility’s website. The resident is in isolation, in accordance with state and federal guidelines, and the the staff member is isolating at home, she reported.
Routine testing at Sauer Health Care caught an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 in one staff member, who is isolating at home, administrator Sara Blair said. That staff member tested positive back on September 15, and since then, the nursing home has tested all of its residents and staff and found no other cases, she added. “Sauer Health Care continues to be vigilant with our infection control practices and we are so pleased with the amount of testing that is available in the community to keep our residents and staff safe,” Blair wrote in an email.
La Crosse still a hot spot
La Crosse County’s skyrocketing case numbers cooled down slightly this week, but it still posted 571 cases in seven days. Winona County officials issued a travel advisory against nonessential trips to the La Crosse area, citing the surge in cases there. With a seven-day average of 69 cases a day per 100,000 residents, that’s nearly three times the per capita rate in Winona County: 19 per day per 100,000 residents.
Buffalo County had 15 new cases this week, an improvement over last week’s 20. The per capita rate is slightly lower than Winona’s: 16 new cases per day per 100,000 residents.