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Potential COVID-19 exposure at two EC bars

People who visited The Pickle or She-Nannigans bars downtown Eau Claire during certain times last weekend may have been exposed to COVID-19, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department said Thursday morning.

Anyone who was at either of the two bars at these dates and times — and who is also experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 — should get tested for the virus, according to the Health Department:

  • The Pickle, 341 Water St., on June 19 from 10:30 p.m. – 12 a.m. and June 20 from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
  • She-Nannigans, 415 Water St., on June 20 from 12 a.m. – 2:30 a.m. and June 21 from 1:30 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.

Both bars are cooperating with the public health investigations, according to the Health Department.

The department will keep releasing information on possible exposures at businesses if people have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive (within six feet of a confirmed case for at least 15 minutes), and if the department can’t identify or contact those people who were possibly exposed.

She-Nannigans said in a Facebook post Thursday it would close Thursday evening for cleaning and planned to reopen Friday night.

Neither bar responded immediately to phone calls seeking comment.

The Health Department won’t identify personal information about any people who test positive and have visited Eau Claire businesses, department Director Lieske Giese said Wednesday.

She said the department doesn’t consider food a source of transmission.

“In this disease situation, food is not the risk factor,” Giese said. “It’s really that one-on-one exposure, anyone that came into close physical contact …. is potentially at risk.”

For any business with publicly announced cases, there isn’t a specific risk of people getting sick there at any other day or time, Giese added: “We are not signaling that there is any current specific risk of going there.”

It’s the second day the Health Department has alerted the community of potential exposures at specific Eau Claire businesses on specific days and times. On Wednesday it released a similar alert for people who had attended dine-in service at Olive Garden, 4920 Golf Rd., from 4 to 9 p.m. June 4, 9, 10 and 11 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 16 and 17 at the inside bar at Wagner’s Lanes, 2159 Brackett Ave.

Symptoms of the virus include cough, fever, sore throat, headache, body or muscle aches, chills, fatigue, vomiting, or new loss of taste or smell.

The Health Department urged people to stay home if they have a fever, cough, sore throat or any other symptoms; wash their hands often; cover coughs and sneezes; and stay six feet apart from people they don’t live with.

Randy Shuck of Flagpoles Etc. of Holly, Mich., grinds a section on a 140-foot flagpole Thursday to be hoisted into place this morning, weather permitting, at the Chippewa Valley Veteran Tribute in Altoona’s River Prairie Park. The dedication ceremony for the largest flag in west-central Wisconsin will be at 11 a.m. Friday, July 3. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Health officials: 20M Americans have had virus

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials estimate that 20 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since it first arrived in the United States, meaning that the vast majority of the population remains susceptible.

Thursday’s estimate is roughly 10 times as many infections as the 2.3 million cases that have been confirmed. Officials have long known that millions of people were infected without knowing it and that many cases are being missed because of gaps in testing.

The news comes as the Trump administration works to tamp down nationwide concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as about a dozen states are seeing worrisome increases in cases.

The administration also looks to get its scientific experts back before the public more as it tries to allay anxieties about the pandemic while states begin reopening. Since mid-May, when the government began stressing the need to get the economy moving again, the panel’s public health experts have been far less visible than in the pandemic’s early weeks.

Twenty million infections means that about 6% of the nation’s 331 million people have been infected.

“It’s clear that many individuals in this nation are still susceptible,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “Our best estimate right now is that for every case that was reported, there actually are 10 more infections.”

Previously, CDC officials and the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that as many as 25% of infected people might not have symptoms.

“There’s an enormous number of people that are still vulnerable,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It still remains a potentially lethal disease. It’s a roll of the dice for everybody who gets the illness. Also, you’re rolling the dice for other people who you may give the virus to.”

The new estimate is based on CDC studies of blood samples collected nationwide — some by the CDC and others from blood donations and other sources. Many infections were not caught in early testing, when supplies were limited and federal officials prioritized testing for those with symptoms.

Administration officials are pointing to the new data to allay public anxieties, claiming that while there have been significant spikes, they have the outbreaks well in hand. They maintained they were not trying to minimize a public health crisis, but said the nation is in a markedly different place with the virus now than when the U.S. last saw similar infection numbers in mid-April, when testing infrastructure was weaker. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity late Wednesday to discuss the matter candidly.

“This is still serious,” Redfield said on the call with reporters Thursday. “But I’m asking people to recognize that we’re in a different situation today than we were in March or April,” with more cases today in younger people who are not as likely to develop serious illness or die from infection, he said.

President Donald Trump, who refuses to wear a face mask in public, has been playing down the virus threat, insisting recently that “it’s fading away, it’s going to fade away.” Vice President Mike Pence, during an appearance in Ohio, said the U.S. had ”met the moment” in fighting the virus.

Redfield said infection prevalence rates ranged from 1% in some areas of the West Coast to much higher in New York City.

Several independent experts said the methods and locations of sampling are key to interpreting the numbers.

Dr. Thomas Tsai, a Harvard University health policy researcher, said 20 million seems reasonable, but “most of these estimates exist in a range” and it’s important to know how wide that is.

“It’s hard to interpret this just from a single number and without the context for it,” such as what locations were sampled and whether it was truly a random slice of a population or areas of low or high prevalence, which can skew the results.

Justin Lessler, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said 20 million infected “is about what you’d expect based on the case fatality rate” and the number of deaths that have occurred so far in the U.S.

Despite the phaseout of daily White House coronavirus briefings, the administration has been closely monitoring data on the spread of COVID-19 and has been deploying teams from the CDC to identify and stem outbreaks around the country.

A dozen states in recent weeks have seen a worrisome uptick in new cases, as well as in the more critical measure of the percentage of positive cases discovered in tests performed. Seven states have seen more than 10% of tests come back positive. And troublesome spikes in Sun Belt states have dominated news coverage in recent days, to the consternation of Trump administration officials.

They point instead to more nuanced county-level data, which shows positivity rates exceeding 10% in just 3% of the nation’s counties. Yet they acknowledge that some of the areas with the highest transmission rates are generally the most populous, suggesting tens of millions of Americans could be living in areas with spiking infections.

As states reopen, the administration says it is up to governors and local officials to determine how to respond to the spikes. Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, for example, put a hold on any further steps to reopen and reimposed a ban on elective surgeries in some areas to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide more than doubled in two weeks.

The CDC teams, officials said, are working to trace new outbreaks and reinforce protective measures like social distancing and mask wearing in hard-hit areas and to remind vulnerable populations to take extreme precautions. The administration says those efforts have helped slow new infections in North Carolina and Alabama, where they were deployed earlier this month.

One of the hard-hit areas is Phoenix, where Trump held an event Tuesday with thousands of young attendees, nearly all of whom were maskless.

The officials say the nature of the outbreak now is different than months ago, when deaths topped more than 1,000 per day for weeks and hospitals were stretched beyond capacity across the country. The new increase in positive cases, they said, is capturing what has long been there. They say it is only now showing up in data because the U.S. has increased testing and surveillance.

Meanwhile, mortality data has steadily declined, as have hospitalizations in all but a few hot spots.

To the administration officials, that reinforces their hypothesis that millions unknowingly had the virus earlier this year. Through early May, federal guidelines prioritized testing for symptomatic people, those exposed to a positive case and those in high-risk environments.

With testing far more widespread now, officials believe 50% of new cases in Florida and Texas are among people ages 35 or younger, and most of them are asymptomatic.

The U.S. is testing about 500,000 patients per day. On a per capita basis, the U.S. rate falls behind several other countries, including Spain, Australia, Russia and Iceland, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

There is no scientific consensus on the rate of testing needed to control the virus. But many experts say the U.S. should be testing roughly 1 million to 3 million people daily to catch new cases and prevent flareups. Administration officials said they expect to be able to run 20-40 million tests per month beginning this fall.

Testing is constrained by laboratory supplies needed to run the tests but also lack of demand for tests in some areas.

Germantown schools official to lead Chippewa Falls district

CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa Falls school district will be led by a schools official from southeastern Wisconsin.

Jeff Holmes, superintendent of the Germantown school district outside of Milwaukee since 2013, was chosen Thursday afternoon as the new superintendent of Chippewa Falls schools.

Three groups — the Chippewa school board, a group of district administration and a group of community members — interviewed Holmes and Nick Madison, superintendent of Brillion public schools since 2005 Thursday before ultimately choosing Holmes.

Board President David Czech said all three groups were in agreement in choosing Holmes due to his experience in similar positions and his ability to step into the role quickly.

“All three groups were really on the same page that Jeff Holmes is an outstanding candidate and is going to be a perfect fit for this district,” Czech said. “If you look at what our needs are right now, with Dr. (Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos) leaving July 1, we needed to hit the ground running and have someone come in and make decisions with confidence right away. With being in the position he was in Germantown for so long and the outstanding job he did, we knew he has the capability to come and do great things right away. We have a lot of great things in place already, so to have a leader come in right and not only lead the district but guide it along the path it is already on is what we need.”

Pending agreement on contract terms, Holmes is scheduled to start in his new role on Wednesday. The district is facing many important decisions currently, and Czech said Holmes will be tasked with many important decisions early on in his tenure as superintendent.

“One of the most impressive things about him is he put together a complete four-page brochure on what his plan would be for the next year,” Czech said. “He definitely has a plan for what needs to be done this month, immediately focusing on how we get our schools involved during the COVID-19 period. We have issues we need to tackle immediately that our community is facing and he’s prepared to do that.”

Upon the opening of the position earlier this year, the district received 25 applications for the superintendent position due in large part to the collaboration with the search firm McPherson & Jacobson, which focused on finding qualified candidates for the position.

With the selection of Holmes for the position, the Chippewa Falls school district will not have had a single day without a superintendent, a fact Czech said is a welcomed piece of news.

“It’s a big sigh of relief for us,” Czech said. “For the board, there is a ton of work and stress involved when you don’t have your one person you can rely on in place. There was a lot of nervousness around whether or not we could find the right person, and the fact we found the right person and are satisfied with it is a huge weight off of our back. This district is not going to be left in a position where we don’t have anybody or we’re struggling to do something. At this point in time we’re glad not just that it’s over, but that it ended in the right way.”

Taylor-Eliopoulos is leaving the Chippewa Falls school district to take the superintendent position in the Altoona school district.