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.

EAU CLAIRE — After a grim September that added over 1,000 cases of the novel coronavirus in Eau Claire County, coronavirus tracking metrics suggest that new cases of the virus started to slow down this week — but health officials warned the community Thursday not to take anything for granted.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department also announced Thursday that an eighth county resident has died from COVID-19.

The person was older than 65 and had underlying medical conditions, said Health Department Director Lieske Giese.

Giese did not comment on the person’s specific age, sex or specific health conditions. The Health Department announced the seventh death of a county resident from the coronavirus last week.

The county found another 53 cases of the virus through testing on Thursday, totaling over 2,200 county residents that have contracted COVID-19. Just over 2,000 have recovered, leaving 255 people with the virus who are isolating.

The county has averaged about 35 new cases per day in the last seven days, compared to 40 new cases per day the week before, Giese said.

“Again, that daily case count — and the weekly and (biweekly) case count — are certainly much higher than what we were hoping to have at this point,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “Our goal, and identified at a state and national level, was to be at about 10 cases per day for a county of our size.”

Giese said the slowing of new cases this week is likely due to several factors.

“In the beginning of September, we had a number of people coming into our community with UW-Eau Claire starting (classes). That did increase testing numbers at that point in time,” she said. “... People are in our community settling in, and the spread after that initial point appears to be fairly limited, although we’re concerned about continued spread in the community.”

Giese said she is also concerned about people choosing not to get tested even if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Hospitalizations are continuing to rise. Another 12 county residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Oct. 1, Giese said, compared to nine who were hospitalized the week prior.

Local hospitals are still able to treat all patients, she noted, and urged people to continue to go to hospitals if they need medical care.

Data: UW-EC impact appears to lessen

Health officials said a significant portion of new cases in September were related to UW-Eau Claire, which began in-person classes again in early September. But while 50% of the county’s cases are still in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic, the percentage of cases related to UW-Eau Claire is shrinking, Giese said: About 33% of cases since Sept. 1 are related to UW-Eau Claire as of Thursday. That metric was at 45% last week.

It’s “showing we have disease spread across the county, not just in one particular age group,” Giese said.

As of Monday, 428 students related to UW-Eau Claire have tested positive, and eight faculty or staff members have tested positive, according to the university’s coronavirus tracking dashboard. Those totals include students who live both on- and off-campus, according to the university. As of Thursday, eight UW-Eau Claire students were in isolation on campus, and another 40 were in quarantine.

The county’s other coronavirus tracking metrics are a mixed bag: Some have improved since last week; others have worsened.

  • The county’s test-positivity rate, or the percentage of all tests that come back positive, is at 9%. Last week it sat at 11.4%.
  • The community spread percentage, or the portion of people who test positive who don’t know where they contracted the virus, rose slightly this week, up to 38%.
  • Contact tracers were able to contact 78% of new cases within 24 hours this week, compared to 86% of new cases the week before.
  • Contact tracers were able to reach 36% of close contacts within 48 hours — no change since the previous week. “It’s still not where we want it,” Giese said. “We want everyone to know right away, and make sure they understand they need to isolate.”

Another two people connected to the Eau Claire County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, Giese said Thursday, bringing the jail’s total to 10 cases. Eight of those cases have recovered. They are the first new cases of the virus connected to the jail reported since this summer.

Cases keep trending upward statewide

Statewide, Wisconsin recorded its highest ever single-day case count Thursday, with over 3,100 new cases confirmed that day alone, according to the state Department of Health Services.

About 80% of the nearly 142,000 Wisconsin residents who have contracted the virus have recovered as of Thursday. Almost 6% have been hospitalized. One percent, or 1,424 people, have died.

“The state is being seen, unfortunately, across the nation as a place where there is high disease spread,” Giese said. “Wisconsin has been named as one of the highest-spread states in the U.S. ... it’s certainly not the place we wanted to be.”

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline is 715-831-7425.

A three-day-per-week testing site is also open on the west side of Eau Claire, 6697 U.S. 12. The site is free, does not require insurance, is staffed by the Wisconsin National Guard and is open for anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or who is a close contact to someone who tested positive. The site is open through Dec. 7: Mondays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People are asked to register the day of their test at register.covidconnect.wi.gov, or in person at the testing site.

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.