by CHRIS ROGERS
Trempealeau County health officials cautioned citizens last week 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. As of Tuesday, the county’s seven-day total had improved slightly: 87 new cases.
“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 last Friday. Health officials called the increase “substantial” and pointed out that it puts the county into a severe risk category under the local health department’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.”
Winona County’s new infections remained moderately high this week, though still far lower than the county’s early September spike. As of press time Tuesday, the county had 75 cases in the last seven days, compared with a weekly total of 102 cases last Tuesday and a high of 167 cases on September 2.
The official MDH 14-day case rate for Winona County fell to 44.6 on last Thursday, down from 68 the prior week. The MDH recommends school districts 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 in-person and remote learning. District officials said 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 MDH has reported 35 new cases per 10,000 residents in the last 14 days in Winona County, not counting the backlog of 74 old cases reported on September 18.
homes report cases
Last 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 been 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 three staff members did as well, executive director Carol Ehlinger wrote on the facility’s website. In accordance with state and federal guidance, the resident is in isolation and the the staff members are isolating at home, she reported. One Callista Court resident previously reported as COVID-19-positive was determined to have received a false positive test result — a rare occurrence — after a second test was negative, a spokesperson for the facility said.
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.
State officials say cases of COVID-19 at nursing homes are inevitable; what matters is how well facilities stop further spread.
La Crosse numbers
cut in half, but still high
La Crosse County’s skyrocketing case numbers cooled down significantly this week, falling from over 800 cases a week last week to a seven-day total of 397 as of Tuesday. That’s a huge improvement, but still a large number of cases — a daily average of 48 per 100,000 residents, a severe level of transmission under Harvard University’s COVID risk matrix.
Earlier this month, Winona County officials issued a travel advisory against nonessential trips to the La Crosse area, citing the surge in cases there. By comparison, Winona has a daily average of 21 cases per 100,000 residents.
New infections in Buffalo County have stabilized after rising earlier this month; there were 17 new cases this week.