By Shereen Siewert
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging families and businesses to prepare for a bigger outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus as community spread becomes increasingly likely around the state, including Wisconsin.
As of Monday, March 9, one person in Wisconsin has tested positive and 36 have tested negative, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The state this week ceased daily postings of the number of pending cases and will only report how many people are positive or negative from this point forward.
A Dane County resident who was the first person to test positive returned Jan. 30 from China and immediately was isolated at home after being tested at UW Hospital in Madison. He has since been released from isolation after recovering from his illness. Health officials say he tested negative on two consecutive tests before being released from isolation.
Two labs in Wisconsin are performing testing — one in Madison and one in Milwaukee — though additional lab testing is expected soon, officials said.
With the CDC this week expanding criteria for who should be tested, the number of people in Wisconsin under investigation for COVID-19 is likely to grow in coming days, state health department officials said.
The state expects about $10 million in aid to expand the response to COVID-19 in the coming days or weeks, money authorized by the national government.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to impact events, student trips, and businesses in the area.
Last week Liberty Mutual sent letters to all Wausau employees giving them the option to work voluntarily from home for the remainder of the month. That action was prompted by an employee who returned from travel and did not feel well, officials said.
And on Monday in Wausau, organizers of the Wisconsin Ginseng Festival announced they will postpone their annual event until 2022.
“Because the ginseng industry is heavily connected to the Chinese market, things like trade tensions and the coronavirus have ripple effects for ginseng producers in Marathon County,” said Richard Barrett, Executive Director for Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and Sports Authority. “Considering the current situation, along with the time and resources needed to plan each festival, we made the difficult decision to postpone this year’s International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival.”
Marathon County Health Department Community Health Improvement Program Director Judy Burrows tells Wausau Pilot & Review the state is not releasing county-level data for people who are being tested for the virus.
“We anticipate the number of individuals being tested to increase as testing criteria has changed as of March 4,” Burrows said. “Criteria for evaluation of Persons Under Investigation (PUI) were expanded to a wider group of symptomatic patients, looking beyond travel history alone.”
Burrows said it is important for people to understand that they can help control the spread of this or any respiratory virus by washing hands, covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough, avoiding touching their face, using disinfectants to keep surfaces clean and staying home when they feel ill.
School officials in Rhinelander announced they’ll cancel a planned student trip to Europe due to virus concerns, and UW-Madison suspended a spring break program in Germany as well as summer programs in China, Italy and South Korea.
State health officials on Friday said residents should prepare by stocking up on food and water
Households should have a two-week supply of food and water available in case people develop symptoms and need to stay home, officials said. Families should also have at least a month supply of medications and medical supplies, and parents should consider backup plans for child care if schools close, such as whether they can work from home,.
Messonnier said that parents should ask their children’s schools about plans for closures. Businesses should consider whether they can offer telecommuting options to their employees, while hospitals might need to look into expanding telehealth services, she said.
The main way COVID-19 is spread to others is when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is similar to how influenza is spread. The virus is found in droplets from the throat and nose. When someone coughs or sneezes, other people near them can breathe in those droplets. The virus can also spread when someone touches an object with the virus on it. If that person touches their mouth, face, or eyes the virus can make them sick.