COVID-19 Testing

A member of the Wisconsin National Guard administers a swab test on May 11 at the Prevea Health Clinic in Eau Claire.

After 11 days of significant increases in cases, new testing data suggests the novel coronavirus isn’t tapering off in Eau Claire County.

In the last six days, the county has hit record high test-positivity rates, said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, at a Monday press conference.

Almost 10% of tests done on Eau Claire County residents in the last two weeks of June were coming back positive, according to county data. But since the beginning of July, that number spiked: Between 15% and 25% of the county’s tests have come back positive, Giese said.

The county’s goal is a test-positivity rate of 5% or lower, according to a Health Department plan.

Local health officials have said the test-positivity rate is a more accurate indicator of how much the virus is spreading in the community, rather than looking at the raw number of new cases — since the number of tests done each day fluctuates.

But increased testing isn’t driving the surge in Eau Claire County’s test-positivity rate, Giese said.

“This (rise in the positivity rate) is, in fact, with significantly fewer tests the last three days than a week ago,” she said. “It’s certainly not the case that less testing is meaning fewer cases. It is really that we are seeing more disease.”

The state is seeing a similar spike in its test-positivity rate. Wisconsin’s average jumped from around 5% to around 10% over the weekend, while the overall number of COVID-19 tests went down, according to state Department of Health Services data.

Eau Claire area hospitals haven’t told the Health Department that the surge in cases is straining their capacity, Giese said — although county contact tracers are “already getting pushed with the speed we could get to contacts, and the speed we could get to cases.”

The surging test-positivity rate comes just days before Eau Claire County is set to release another two-week, countywide health order. (Its current order, which allows 250 people at outdoor gatherings and 100 people at indoor gatherings, expires Wednesday at midnight.)

The Health Department has said it will primarily consider hospital and contact tracing capacity as it decides how quickly to lift restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

Giese on Monday urged people to visit businesses that enforce an employee mask policy, “that are giving you a clear signal that mask-wearing is an expectation.”

“It is not a political statement to wear a mask, it’s about protecting one another,” she said.

Giese also partially attributed the virus’ spread locally to “people choosing not to keep their social groups small.” Those who are in close, extended contact with other people will also be exposed to everyone else in that second person’s circle, she said.

“It’s really going to take all of us to do something about this,” Giese said. “It’s time now to slow down the spread of disease. We really need to count on one another.”

The county identified six new cases on Monday, for a total of 290. It had gained its 70 newest cases just in the last seven days.

Of the 290 cases, 227 have recovered as of Sunday, according to the Health Department.

One group of people is maintaining its grip on the county’s overall caseload: 38% of cases are in young adults between 20 and 29, according to county data. That trend has continued with the recent spike in local cases, Giese said, and is “fairly similar to what we’re seeing across the state.”

Statewide, cases increased by 484 on Monday, with deaths sitting at 796 and total cases at just over 32,000, according to the DHS. About 79% of the state’s cases have recovered.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.