The increase in local cases of COVID-19 has slowed in recent days, health officials say.
Daily double-digit increases in those testing positive have been replaced by single-digit increases, Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese said Monday during a news conference.
“We’re hopeful we’ll continue to have lower positive testing numbers,” she said. “We’re not going to stop the spread. But we need to slow the spread. And it seems to be moving in that direction at the moment.”
Eau Claire County recorded 13 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, an average of just over four new cases a day. Negative tests totaled 502 since Friday, Giese said.
Overall, she said, Eau Claire County has seen 436 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March.
Of those, 364 cases have recovered.
The Health Department is currently tracking 72 ongoing positive cases and their hundreds of contacts, Giese said.
Forty inmates in the Eau Claire County Jail have been tested. The jail has had a total of seven positive cases, and only one is an active case, she said.
Giese cannot pinpoint specific reasons why double-digit increases have been replaced by single-digit increases in Eau Claire County.
“We are hopeful people are increasing their strategies to stay safer,” she said.
Chippewa County has 199 confirmed cases, and has seen eight new cases since Friday, said Angela Weideman, director of the Chippewa County Department of Public Health.
Chippewa County has 38 active cases, she said.
Statewide, 893 people have died of COVID-19 as of Sunday.
Weideman said results from last week’s mass testing day at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds will be released soon.
“We are just getting the final results in,” she said. “We should have information in a day or two.”
Weideman encourages people to rely on trusted sources for information on the coronavirus, such as the websites of state and local health departments, and the federal Centers of Disease Control.
“There has been an overabundance of false information,” she said. “Think before you share information on social media.”
If you see COVID-19 information on social media, consider who is sharing the post, Weideman said.
Luke Fedie, Eau Claire County’s behavioral health administrator, encouraged families to identify spaces in their home where children can study online and create schedules for that.
Also, families should make plans in case a family member is diagnosed with COVID-19, he said.
“Many families have plans for fires and inclement weather,” Fedie said. “I would encourage you to make plans in the same way for COVID-19.”
The biggest test yet of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine got underway Monday with the first of some 30,000 Americans rolling up their sleeves to receive shots created by the U.S. government as part of the all-out global race to stop the pandemic.
The glimmer of hope came even as Google, in one of the gloomiest assessments of the coronavirus’s staying power from a major employer, decreed that most of its 200,000 employees and contractors should work from home through next June — a decision that could influence other big companies.
Final-stage testing of the vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna, began with volunteers at numerous sites around the U.S. given either a real dose or a dummy without being told which.
“I’m excited to be part of something like this. This is huge,” said Melissa Harting, a 36-year-old nurse who received an injection in Binghamton, New York. Especially with family members in front-line jobs that could expose them to the virus, she added, “doing our part to eradicate it is very important to me.”
It will be months before results trickle in, and there is no guarantee the vaccine will ultimately work against the scourge that has killed over 650,000 people around the world, including almost 150,000 in the U.S.
“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines passively attempting to wear our masks and social distance and not go out when it’s not necessary. This is the first step of becoming active against this,” said Dr. Frank Eder of Meridian Clinical Research, the company that runs the Binghamton trial site. “There’s really no other way to get past this.”
As if to underline how high the stakes are, there were more setbacks in efforts to contain the coronavirus.
In Washington, the Trump administration disclosed that national security adviser Robert O’Brien has the virus — the highest-ranking U.S. official to test positive so far. The White House said he has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site.”
The move to restart the national pastime ran into trouble just five days into the long-delayed season: Two major league baseball games scheduled for Monday night were called off as the Miami Marlins coped with an outbreak — the Marlins’ home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees’ game in Philadelphia, where the Marlins used the clubhouse over the weekend.
As for relief from the economic damage done by the virus, Republicans on Capitol Hill rolled out a $1 trillion package that includes another round of $1,200 direct payments but reduces the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits that expire for millions of Americans on Friday. Republicans proposed $200 a week, saying the generous bump discourages people from returning to work. Democrats call the added benefits a lifeline for those who have lost their jobs.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows worked through the weekend on the GOP proposal and have agreed to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago.
In Europe, rising infections in Spain and other countries caused alarm only weeks after nations reopened their borders in hopes of reviving tourism. Over the weekend, Britain imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Spain, Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France urged its citizens not to visit Spain’s Catalonia region.
Scientists set speed records getting a made-from-scratch vaccine into massive testing just months after the coronavirus emerged. But they stressed that the public shouldn’t fear that anyone is cutting corners.
“This is a significant milestone,” NIH Director Francis Collins said after the very first test injection was given, at 6:45 a.m. in Savannah, Georgia. “Yes, we’re going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise” on proving whether the vaccine is safe and effective.
“We are focusing on speed because every day matters,” added Stephane Bancel, CEO of Massachusetts-based Moderna.
After volunteers get two doses a month apart, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus is spreading unchecked.
The answer probably won’t come until November or December, cautioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH’s infectious-diseases chief.
Among many questions the study may answer: How much protection does just one dose offer compared with the two scientists think are needed? If it works, will it protect against severe disease or block infection entirely?
Don’t expect a vaccine as strong as the measles vaccine, which prevents about 97% of measles infections, Fauci said, adding he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that’s 60% effective.
Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month. But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country.
Every month through the fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate, each with 30,000 volunteers.
The final U.S. study of the Oxford shot is set to begin in August, followed by a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and one from Novavax in October. Pfizer Inc. plans its own 30,000-person study this summer.
That’s a stunning number of people needed to roll up their sleeves for science. In recent weeks, more than 150,000 Americans filled out an online registry signaling interest, Collins said. But many more are needed.
NIH is working to make sure that the study isn’t just filled with healthy, younger volunteers but includes populations hit hardest by COVID-19, including older adults, those in poor health and African-Americans and Latinos.
“We really are going to depend upon that sense of volunteerism for individuals from every different corner of society if we’re going to really find out how this vaccine, and its potential to end this terrible pandemic, is go to work in each of those groups,” Collins said.
One petition circulating in Eau Claire is urging city officials to mandate that people wear face masks in public during the coronavirus pandemic, while another group of residents is taking the stance it should be a personal choice.
Ben Holmen said 1,833 Eau Claire residents have signed a petition that wants the city to require people to wear masks in public spaces, on city buses and in vehicles for hire.
“Without a mandate, many residents will not wear masks,” he said.
While he lauded businesses that have required their employees and customers to wear masks as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Holmen said it won’t make much of an impact unless it is done citywide. He is seeking quick action by the council, asking for a mask mandate to appear on the agenda in early August.
Taking the opposite stance, fellow city resident Kayla Rick said that strongly encouraging people to wear masks has created a culture where those with reasons for not wearing one have been bullied.
“If someone is not wearing a mask, they should not be shamed or bullied. It should be assumed they have a reason for not wearing a mask,” she said.
Rick added that those people’s reasons should be a private matter, not one they should be required to tell others about.
One example she cited is that some people with a history of abuse could have traumatic memories triggered by wearing a mask.
Rick said she is circulating a petition asking the city to declare mask-wearing an issue of health freedom for individuals, not making it a mandate. She didn’t mention the number of people who have signed that petition yet during her comments Monday night to the council.
Rick spoke two weeks ago to the council along with a handful of other residents who stated that mask wearing is a personal choice.
Joining with Holmen on Monday night were two other people who want city leaders to take a stronger stance on face mask use in Eau Claire.
Rita Dorsey, general manager of The Lismore Hotel, said the downtown business required all employees and customers to wear masks when it reopened in June. The policy has led to harassment, though, with baristas in the EC/DC coffee shop being threatened and negative messages being posted on social media about the business, Dorsey said.
She urged for mask-wearing to be a citywide policy to relieve pressure on businesses.
“Local businesses should not carry the responsibility of health and safety on our own,” Dorsey said.
Dr. Brady Didion, a local family medicine physician, likened regional mask-wearing policies to the concept of herd immunity in protecting populations against the spread of a virus.
He said adopting a mask mandate should happen soon — namely before public schools, colleges and universities begin their fall semesters. By “normalizing” the wearing of face masks in public, Didion said that will show to students coming back for school that it is the expectation in this community.
“The timing is urgent here,” he said.
• Also during Monday night meetings, the council held a public hearing on a plan of projects the city expects to undertake in the next five years. That 2021-25 capital improvement plan is set for a vote during today’s 4 p.m. council meeting.
• A trio of Eau Claire residents spoke in favor of the city creating a bilingual Hmong community liaison position as part of its 2021 budget.
“We are taxpayers. We are residents in Eau Claire. There is a true need for this position,” True Vue said while advocating for the creation of the job.