CHIPPEWA FALLS — With 260 active COVID-19 cases, Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman said her office simply cannot keep up with the contact tracing of reaching out to everyone who has come into contact with those who have been infected.
“We have to prioritize in following up with our high-risk contacts,” Weideman said Wednesday at the county’s weekly press conference about the virus.
A “high-risk contact” would be someone who works in a long-term health care facility, a school or day care center, or anyone who works in medical fields.
The county has more than 30 people working on contact tracing, and they were still able to keep up when cases jumped to about 20 a day, and into the 30s per day, but there are simply too many daily cases now for her staff to handle.
“We are doing a thorough conversation with every COVID-positive person,” she said. That conversation includes developing a list of names each person has been in contact with in recent days.
However, it will now be up to the infected person to reach out to those contacts and inform them of the COVID-19 diagnosis. Weideman said they have developed a list of things for the sick person to say to others.
In the past week, the county once again set records in the number of new cases (184, up from 115 the prior week), active, ongoing cases (260, up from 159), hospitalizations (8, up from 7), and positivity rate (14.4%, up from 11.6%).
The number of cases among students or staff in schools across the county climbed from 44 to 54. The county remains in the “severe risk” category, with a recommendation that indoor gatherings be limited to immediate family members, and outdoor gatherings limited to crowds of 10 people.
Earlier this week, Weideman announced the county’s first COVID-19-related death. She declined to provide any details on the person’s age or gender, or if the person had any underlying health conditions. She contends the information gives a false sense of security to the public, with a misguided belief that only elderly people or those with underlying conditions are getting sick.
“We have people in the hospital who are not in high-risk categories,” she said.
The number of tests given in the past week jumped to 1,270. which is up from 987 last week. Even with the jump of tests in recent weeks, Weideman said that 85% of test results are coming back within 48 hours, with the rest coming back in three to five days.
Chippewa County is part of a northwest region of hospitals, and she said that region has about 27% availability of hospital beds. Meanwhile, field hospitals are being constructed on the eastern side of the state, where cases are even higher.
“I don’t envision people from outside our region being brought in (to our hospitals),” she said.
With Halloween looming, Weideman reiterated her recommendation that people stay at home, carve and decorate pumpkins, and have virtual gatherings. For those who are handing out candy or going out trick-or-treating, she recommended using tongs, or setting up a “grab and go” table.