COVID risk level

State health data shows most Rusk County COVID-19 cases are in Ladysmith and areas north and east of the city, while other parts of the county and much of the surrounding region are also currently experiencing high rates of the new coronavirus. Population is higher in the two tracts of the county with the most cases.

Rusk County health officials reported 107 new cases and three new hospitalizations on Monday and Tuesday this week.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, last week, added a “critically high” category to the Disease Activity Dashboard on the DHS website to provide a better picture of the impact of COVID-19 in the state amidst a surge in activity. This new category indicates how alarming COVID-19 activity is in counties and regions throughout Wisconsin. The “critically high” category is nearly three times higher than “very high.” Both the state and 65 counties were at this “critically high” level.

New testing data, now available at the county level, also provides further insights about the COVID-19 infections in communities. Looking at percent positive by test, which counts people each time they are tested, is an important way to understand how prevalent the COVID-19 virus is in each jurisdiction, or county. The updated dashboard also includes the number of daily tests administered by region and county, as well as the 7-day average tests administered and test positivity.

In the state between Oct. 28 and Nov. 11, the case activity was critically high, a high percent of tests were positive for COVID-19 and emergency room visits for “COVID-Like Illnesses” was high. At the same time, case activity for “Influenza Like Illnesses” was low.

“Far too many of our communities are in a dire situation,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. “To put these new data in perspective, Wisconsin is now seeing more average cases per day than New York City did at the peak of its surge last spring. Because of these critically high levels of disease, public health can no longer adequately contact trace, hospital beds are filled with patients with COVID-19, and too many Wisconsin families are losing loved ones to this virus. By helping people see the critically high level of disease in their counties and regions, we hope these data enhancements will help people make important decisions to stay home in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The Rusk County Health Department reported four deaths last week due to the illness, bringing the county’s total to five deaths since the pandemic began.

Rusk County Public Health will continue to align with Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidance, according to County Health Department Director Jeremy Jacobs. This means encouraging social distancing, wearing a mask, demonstrating proper hand hygiene, monitoring any and all symptoms of COVID-19, and staying home if you are sick, he said.

“In light of the pandemic, Rusk County has added staff to complete essential functions associated with communicable disease investigation and complete contact tracing,” he said. “We believe this is essential to increase awareness and education for residents in an effort to slow community spread. Wisconsin Department of Health’s recommended COVID-19 guidelines have guided disease investigations which have become overwhelmingly time consuming as positive cases increase.”

The county has experienced an increase in positive cases activating a crisis level of practice standards in the last month, according to Jacobs.

As of Oct. 1, the county’s public health nurses were managing 12 active cases. As of Nov. 11, they were managing 252 cases. Each active case results in about one hour of staff time to complete an interactive interview in addition to collecting information as to active symptoms, identification of close contacts, employment and documentation. 

“While no one asks for a statewide emergency declaration, our staff is equipped to adapt to the situation and provide the best care in a timely fashion. The best practice results when community members suspect COVID-19 symptoms and consult with their health care provider,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs urged individuals who are  tested for COVID-19 to follow the instructions of the testing facility and stay home until receiving results from a medical provider.  

“Please follow those instructions until which time a public health disease investigator contacts you. It is very important to allow for this process knowing it may take 24-48 hours once the results are in for that to be transferred to public health,” Jacobs said.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) reports 2,034 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 435 in intensive care. The state’s 134 hospitals have a total 191 ICU beds immediately available.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports 88.9 percent of  all hospital beds in the state are in use with 90.6 percent usage in intensive care. DHS also reports 24.2 percent of ventilators statewide are in use.

DHS reports in the northwest region that includes Rusk County 80.5 percent of hospital beds are in use with 92.5 percent usage in intensive care. DHS also reports 19.8 percent of ventilators are in use in the northwest region of the state.

The Rusk County Health Department is promoting public attention towards the upcoming holidays and deer hunting season.

“We would encourage you to go hunting, sit in the woods all while practicing social distancing and the noted advisory guidelines.  When you get hungry, we would support stimulating the local economy by treating yourself to the fine establishments through utilization of to-go orders while being cognizant of your surroundings and others.  Public Health encourages open conversations with camp members as to social distancing, good hand hygiene practices, wearing a mask in shared spaces as well as adding any available accommodations in order to protect family and friends,” Jacobs said.

The COVID surge also has led Ladysmith school officials to alter their programming.

The district moved its instruction to distance learning at the middle and high schools starting Nov. 16 and continuing through Dec. 4. Elementary school students will continue in-person instruction through  Thursday, Nov. 19 before going to virtual learning Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

The reason for a district-wide distance learning model for the week following Thanksgiving is to help slow down the spread of the virus following this important family holiday,” School District Administrator Laura Stunkel said.

Stunkel added the goal is to return to in-person instruction on Dec. 7,depending on the status of COVID activity at that time and guidance from the county health department.

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