Top: UW-Eau Claire on July 10, 2020. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

EAU CLAIRE — Eau Claire County recorded 199 new cases of the coronavirus over the last week, as well as its highest-ever weekend case increase from Friday, Saturday and Sunday — but over half of those new cases are related to UW-Eau Claire, health officials said Wednesday.

In-person classes at the university began last week.

Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 9, 205 Eau Claire County residents tested positive for COVID-19, and just over half of those cases — 108 — were connected to UW-Eau Claire, said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. Twenty were students who lived on campus.

“About 50% of our cases (in that range) were either UW-Eau Claire students or faculty,” Giese said Wednesday at a news conference.

That includes students who live both on- and off-campus, Giese noted.

Other Wisconsin college cities are experiencing similar rises in cases.

Dane County on Wednesday asked UW-Madison to send undergraduate students living in residence halls home for the rest of the semester. Since Sept. 1, at least 74% of Dane County’s new COVID-19 cases stemmed from UW-Madison, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Wednesday in a letter to UW System President Tommy Thompson and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department anticipated a surge in cases when UW-Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College and K-12 schools reopened, Giese said, adding that there’s been a “tremendous increase in caseload.”

Testing anyone with symptoms, as fast as possible, is “critically important” especially for young people, she said.

“Many of these are mild cases or asymptomatic cases. We know that these cases are also infectious, and these (people) can infect family members, coworkers, friends and people in the community,” Giese said. “If those individuals are volunteering or have internships or jobs, all those people become at risk.”

UW-Eau Claire has said this week it will publish a dashboard with data on COVID-19 cases on campus. As of Tuesday, 77 students had tested positive for the virus and 181 were quarantined because of a possible exposure, university officials said this week.

Giese emphasized that contact tracers believed the outbreak among the student body isn’t related to classroom areas.

“We know from our investigations, and it’s been true all summer, that our biggest risk is from our social gatherings,” she said.

If someone has a symptom of COVID-19 and gets tested, they should stay home until they get their results, even K-12 or younger students, Giese added.

State, local data

Eau Claire County reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, its highest-ever single-day increase in cases, according to Health Department data.

The county has been reporting 20s and 30s of new cases nearly every day for the last week.

Since March, 1,037 county residents have tested positive for the virus. About 859 have recovered, and 41 have ever been hospitalized with COVID-19.

Six county residents have died from complications of the virus.

Statewide, another 857 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, along with another 15 deaths, bringing total cases to over 83,000 and deaths to 1,183.

Over the last seven days, an average of 11.7% of COVID-19 tests have come back positive, a measure that was at just 8.5% on Sept. 1, according to state Department of Health Services figures.

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.