By Shereen Siewert

Health officials in Marathon County are now using “crisis standards” after a steep surge in COVID-19 cases, according to a news release issued Thursday.

With 321 new positive cases in the past five days, the public health system is now beyond capacity to respond to each person newly diagnosed with the virus within 24 hours, said Joan Theurer, Marathon County Health Officer.

Theurer said Marathon County has reached a crucial point in the pandemic. Health officials can no longer contact COVID-19 cases in a timely manner or have timely follow up with close contacts, she said.

Hospitals in Wausau and the Fox Valley are especially overwhelmed with a significant uptick in patients, while health officials said this week they are closer to opening a field hospital to respond to the need for care.

As of Thursday, 90 patients in north central Wisconsin are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Department of Health Services. Of those, 40 patients are in the intensive care unit and 30 are on ventilators. An additional seven patients are presumed positive with COVID-19 test results pending.

But hospitalizations are only a small fraction of positive cases, officials said, as only the most critically ill are being treated as inpatients, and health officials expect the death toll to continue to rise in the coming days and weeks.

The Marathon County Health Department will continue to follow up with individuals who test positive and go over isolation protocols, but the response may be delayed, Theurer said. While residents wait for a call or letter with isolation guidance, they are being asked to separate themselves from others and alert anyone who they may have had close contact within the two days prior to them becoming ill. Close contacts are defined as anyone who was within 6 feet of a positive case for at least 15 cumulative minutes, or had a direct contact, such as a handshake, hug, or sitting next to a person.

Close contacts should self-quarantine at home for a period of 14 days from their last contact with the infected person, monitor for symptoms, and limit contact with others as much as possible, Theurer said.

Due to the current level of COVID-19 activity in the community, health department officials recommend everyone reduce the number of times they go to public places.

The community is encouraged to continue to do what they need to do to protect themselves and others –wash your hands, watch your distance,wear a face covering and stay home if you’re ill or were a contact of someone who was.Cases are going up because we are not staying home.

“We have community spread of disease and it will take action by all of us to slow this down,”continues Theurer,“By limiting the possible contact points, kids will be able to continue their learning in person, businesses will be able to remain open, and the livelihood of residents throughout Marathon County communities will be better protected.”

For more on the guidance provided for residents who test positive or are close contacts, visit