‘Uncontrolled spread’ forces Jefferson County to scale back contact tracing

The state of Wisconsin is reaching a crisis point in the COVID-19 pandemic.  © Alec Johnson / Now News Group Menomonee Falls School District superintendent Corey Golla (middle, with microphone) gives his recommendation on the Menomonee Falls mascot at the board’s Nov. 11 meeting. Particularly in northeastern Wisconsin, hospitals are […]

The state of Wisconsin is reaching a crisis point in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

a group of people standing in front of a tent: Menomonee Falls School District superintendent Corey Golla (middle, with microphone) gives his recommendation on the Menomonee Falls mascot at the board's Nov. 11 meeting.

© Alec Johnson / Now News Group
Menomonee Falls School District superintendent Corey Golla (middle, with microphone) gives his recommendation on the Menomonee Falls mascot at the board’s Nov. 11 meeting.

Particularly in northeastern Wisconsin, hospitals are filling up and cases continue to spiral out of control.


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BY THE NUMBERS: Tracking coronavirus cases in Wisconsin

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11:36 a.m.: ‘Uncontrolled spread’ hinders contact tracing in Jefferson County

Coronavirus cases are rising so fast in Jefferson County that health officials said Saturday that they will no longer call individuals who had close contact with those who test positive for COVID-19. Instead, they are asking anyone who tests positive to notify their close contacts themselves.

The Jefferson County Health Department issued a statement Saturday saying the county is experiencing a “significant and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19” and that its capacity for testing, investigating and contact tracing to identify and control the spread of the virus has become “increasingly strained.”

“Our goal remains to contact all confirmed cases within 24 hours of being reported to the health department, but due to the current surge in cases and our capacity, we are not able to consistently meet this objective.

“At this time, we will no longer be calling those individuals who are close contacts of a positive case,” it goes on to say. “We will now ask positively confirmed individuals to notify their close contacts of their exposure to COVID-19.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County has more than tripled from about 500 cases in late July to 1,579 as of Friday, according to the state Department of Health Services dashboard. Eight people in the county have died, it said.

— Annysa Johnson

8:30 a.m.: Sen. Ron Johnson tests positive for COVID-19

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Saturday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Johnson is the third Republican U.S. Senator to test positive for the novel coronavirus within the last 24 hours.

Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina also announced positive tests on Friday.

It is believed that Johnson had contact with one of those two senators, although his office would not confirm that.

Johnson did not attend the White House ceremony announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Johnson, who had been in an earlier quarantine, returned to Oshkosh Thursday afternoon and underwent a test Friday.

He will be in quarantine at his home for the next two weeks.

Read the full story here.

— Bill Glauber


4:43 p.m.: Fox Valley health departments issue public-health emergency

Several Fox Valley health departments issued a public health emergency Friday as a result of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the area. 

The cities of Appleton and Menasha, as well as Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties, joined to send a news release for the alert. It recommends closing indoor bars, limiting restaurants to delivery and takeout only, canceling indoor gatherings and limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people and a variety of other strategies to stop uncontrolled spread of the virus.  

The rapid escalation in cases has overwhelmed local public health departments and made it impossible for contact tracers to reach people in a timely manner, a key tool to slow down spread, the release said. 

Local hospitals are also sounding the alarm that bed capacity could be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

Read the full story from Madeline Heim.

4:29 p.m.: Menomonee Falls district scraps plans for in-person classes

The Menomonee Falls School District, which had planned to bring its youngest students back for full in-person instruction beginning Monday abruptly changed course Friday, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases and individuals under quarantine in its schools.

Superintendent Corey Golla declined to say how many cases the district has, citing privacy concerns. But the district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows there were eight active cases involving children in the district’s geographic boundaries as of Thursday. It also said four staff members were absent and two were working remotely because of COVID-19, and that two staff members were quarantined and two were in isolation after testing positive.

Menomonee Falls, which has been in a hybrid virtual/in-person model since the beginning of the year announced a week earlier that it would begin full-time, in-person instruction for grades k4-2 on Oct. 5, despite the spike in COVID-19 cases locally and across the state. Critics argued that it contradicted its own guidelines, which call for remote learning and some closures when the caseload is moderate or moderately high in the local area and county.

Golla defended that decision Friday, saying school officials could see the spike in cases outside of its buildings, but that its “internal indicators were quite good.”

“We had no cases in the elementary school, one staff member had tested positive, but we had very few people quarantining,” he said. “We felt it was manageable. But we’ve seen an increase in activity, and some of that was specific to the elementary school, where we wanted to start to bring students back first.”

— Annysa Johnson

1:39 p.m.: Ballet school reopens dance studios 

The Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy reopened their dance studios in Brookfield and Fox Point on Sep. 8. 

“In general, we’re a big family and community,” Dimmer said. “To have them back in the classroom and to be with them physically is just really a relief. It’s nice to have them back.”

The school began offering students an in-person instruction option at the Milwaukee Ballet location in the Third Ward in July, after being shut down since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. No students tested positive for coronavirus during the summer course. 

The decision to reopen wasn’t made lightly. The school and academy sought input from their health and safety committee, which includes three doctors. 

After Dimmer saw that they could offer in-person instruction — and do so safely — she said they decided to reopen the Brookfield location at the Towne Center and the Fox Point location at the Riverpoint Village. One student at the school has tested positive for the coronavirus in the last month, but it was contracted externally, and the school’s safety protocols successfully prevented it from spreading, according to Milwaukee Ballet public relations manager Leslie Rivers.

Read the full story from Evan Casey.

12:18 p.m.: Visitor restrictions tightening in Aspirus hospitals

As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Wisconsin, Aspirus is again tightening visitor restrictions at its hospitals, nursing homes and health care facilities in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Visitors will no longer be allowed at Aspirus facilities. There are some exceptions, such as for end-of-life situations, labor and delivery, surgery patients patients with specific caregiving needs or pediatric patients.  Those using outpatient treatment centers, such as for dialysis and oncology, may also have a support person.

Earlier this week, Aspirus warned that the recent surge in coronavirus cases and patients was straining its facilities.

Matthew Heywood, president and CEO of Aspirus Healthcare, acknowledge that Wausau hospital has resorted to at-times putting patients on a wait list. He stressed that the number of people on the wait list fluctuates, as do wait times, which he said ranged from a couple of hours to 24 hours or longer.

— Mary Spicuzza

11:53 a.m.: Passenger traffic up at Mitchell airport, but not close to last year

Passenger traffic at Milwaukee Mitchell International continued to climb in August from its pandemic-related lows, but the numbers are still only a fraction of those a year ago as air travel remains in a slumber. 

New numbers show 193,711 passengers passed through the airport in August. That’s up 10% from the previous month and is nearly 10 times as many passengers as there were in April when much of the country was shut down due to COVID-19.

Still, the August tally is down more than two-thirds — 68.5% — from the 616,000 who passed through the airport in August of last year. That is consistent with national figures that show air travel is down about 70% from a year ago.

Read the full story from Joe Taschler.

11:28 a.m.: Trump’s diagnosis interrupts aggressive schedule, which includes Wisconsin

Donald Trump’s planned visit to Wisconsin Saturday would have been his sixth trip to this battleground state since January and the 12th by a member of the GOP ticket. 

But with that trip now canceled, it’s a vivid sign of how the president’s positive test for COVID-19 is upending both his schedule and the campaign itself.   

Trailing consistently in the polls here and being outspent in the ad wars on TV, Trump’s aggressive travel was at the core of his campaign and seemed to represent at least one possible political edge for Republicans in Wisconsin, a state at the epicenter of this election fight.  

Read the full story from Patrick Marley and Craig Gilbert.

11:20 a.m.: Students in Oconomowoc in quarantine

Due to a positive COVID-19 case, a number of Nature Hill and Silver Lake Intermediate School students have been asked to quarantine, according to the Oconomowoc Area School District. 

In a statement, the district said the close contacts resulted in the quarantine of the eighth-grade Gold football team. As a result, the eighth-grade Gold team will not participate in practice or competition for the next two weeks. The statement did not specify the specific number of students placed in quarantine.

The district did not specify whether it was a student or staff member who tested positive, but said that families and staff members involved have been contacted by the Waukesha County Health Department or the district’s health services team. 

Read the full story from Alec Johnson.

8:42 a.m.: Wisconsin leaders respond to Pres. Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis

Several Wisconsin leaders offered sympathy for Pres. Donald Trump the morning after learning that he and the First Lady have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Wishing @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS a full recovery,” tweeted state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. 

“My prayers are with the President and First Lady, with the families who have suffered at the hands of this virus, and with the families who have lost someone to coronavirus,” said U.S. Representative Bryan Steil of Wisconsin’s 1st District. “I remain committed to defeating this virus and protecting our health.”

“My thoughts are with @realDonaldTrump and the First Lady,” tweeted U.S. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin’s 2nd district. “I hope for a speedy recovery. This should show the nation the need to take Covid-19 seriously, and that means wearing a mask and properly social distancing. Ignorance or arrogance or denial can be costly.”

Read the full story from Ricardo Torres.


3:45 p.m.: Green Bay school district shuts down all buildings

The Green Bay school district will close its buildings to all but essential workers Monday because of concerns about the high level of spread of COVID-19.

The district has been mostly closed to students since the school year began, but has allowed teachers who preferred to teach classes via video from their school rooms, rather than their houses, to do so. It also has allowed a handful of students with special learning needs to be in certain schools for instruction.

School buildings will be closed to teachers and students from Monday through Oct. 16, district spokesperson Lori Blakeslee said.

The move is “is in response to the high level of community spread (of COVID-19) in order to keep our staff healthy that provide vital services such as food service and custodial staff,” she said via email. “By asking all who can to work from home, we minimize the number of close contacts our staff may have at work.”

Read the full story from Doug Schneider.

3:40 p.m.: With COVID a factor, Trump relocates rally stop from La Crosse

President Donald Trump will speak in Janesville on Saturday after facing pushback from La Crosse officials for scheduling a campaign rally in a city that’s experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.

But the president still plans to hold an event in Green Bay later that day despite its label as a “red zone” by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The maneuvering Thursday came hours after La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat asked Trump’s campaign to cancel or postpone the rally the president planned to hold at the city’s airport to avoid spreading the virus, which is infecting area residents at one of the highest rates in the country. 

“From a perspective of trying to slow the spread of coronavirus and trying to reduce our case numbers and get the challenges we’re facing here in La Crosse under control, I’m pleased,” Kabat said. “I understand with a campaign season and a presidential election, all of these things will become political but we’re trying to do right by our community.”

Read the full story from Molly Beck and Haley BeMiller.

3:30 p.m.: Lawsuit asks judge to block state health department from releasing businesses with COVID cases

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to block the state health department from releasing the names of businesses with COVID-19 cases in response to public records requests for the data.

The state’s largest business lobbying group argued in its filing that the records are protected by patient confidentiality laws and that disclosure will “irreparably” harm businesses by “effectively blacklisting them.”

The WMC, Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce and New Berlin Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau filed the lawsuit in Waukesha County Circuit Court.

Read the full story from Daphne Chen and Maria Perez.

2:04 p.m.: Ascension offering free flu shots, and Froedtert will offer drive-thru flu shots

Ascension Wisconsin is offering free flu vaccinations at two sites in Milwaukee this month, and Froedtert Health is offering drive-thru flu shots on two days in Menomonee Falls and West Bend.

Preventing the spread of influenza is a high priority this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and the risk that hospitals could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 and flu patients.

The flu vaccine takes nearly two weeks to become effective, Ascension Wisconsin said, and its physicians encourage everyone to be vaccinated before Oct. 31.

The free influenza vaccinations will be available from at Ascension St. Joseph hospital at 5000 W. Chambers St. from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 7, 14, 21 and 28.

The also will be available at Consulate of Mexico, 1443 N. Prospect Ave. from the same times on Oct. 5 and 9.

No appointment or insurance is required and interpreter services will be available. Masks are required.

Separately, Froedtert Health, part of the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin Health Network, will offer drive-thru flu shots at Froedtert Town Hall Health Center  in Menomonee Falls and at Froedtert West Bend Hospital.

Dates are Oct. 3 and Oct. 31, both from 8 a.m. to noon. The flu shots are available to children over the age of 6 and adults. Masks must be worn.

People should check with their health plans on coverage and to ensure that Froedtert Health is part of their health plan’s network.

A vaccine consent form must be completed. The forms will be available at the drive-thru but individuals are encouraged to complete ahead of time online. 

1:09 p.m. Thursday: Bed capacity marks serious danger in Fox Valley hospitals

Bed capacity in Fox Valley hospitals is now seriously threatened by the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the region, health care leaders said Thursday. 

The speed of the spread of the virus could more than double the number of needed hospital beds by the end of this month, ThedaCare senior innovation executive Frank Mellon told community stakeholders in a virtual meeting. 

Models initially projected a peak of 114 beds needed to care for COVID-19 patients in the region, Mellon said. Now, they’ll need close to 180 — and could need a hundred more if transmission rates keep rising. 

RELATED: ‘I wish they could see how bad things are getting’: As Wisconsin hospitals fill up with COVID patients, front-line workers sound the alarm

That possibility doesn’t just endanger COVID-19 patients, ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi said. It puts at risk anyone who may need the hospital for other reasons. 

“How are we going to continue to (help those people) … if we don’t do something different to stem the tidal wave that is already here and potentially could get worse?” Andrabi said. 

Read the full story from Madeline Heim.

WED12:17 p.m.: Federal Bank: Economy won’t recover until virus is under control

The U.S. economy will not recover until the coronavirus is under control, said Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“This is not about politics — it’s about confidence,” Kashkari said during a Wednesday webinar held by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business association.

Kashkari’s overview of what’s ahead was not encouraging, and he called on Congress to provide more support for small businesses and people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

It will be six months to a year before a vaccine is widely available, he said, and until then, people will be wary of going to restaurants, movie theaters and sporting events.

Furloughs are becoming permanent job losses, he said, and bankruptcy filings by businesses are beginning to increase.

“If thousands and thousands of businesses go bankrupt, this recovery is going to be much slower,” Kashkari said.

— Guy Boulton

11:24 a.m.: Local movie theaters close no new releases incoming

Marcus Theatres has closed temporarily 17 of the 72 cinemas it reopened this summer, including the Menomonee Falls and Hillside in Delafield.

In a statement, the Milwaukee-based theater chain cited a decline in audience demand, accelerated by Hollywood’s decision to pull most of the year’s major movie releases off the calendar until the impact of the coronavirus pandemic eases. 

The pandemic led to the shutdown of movie theaters across Wisconsin in mid-March.  Marcus began reopening some theaters in August.  

“As the entertainment industry continues to adapt to the impact of COVID-19, the number of studio releases available has slowed dramatically, which has directly impacted guest attendance,” Marcus Theatres said in the statement. “As soon as this trend reverses and demand returns, we will quickly resume operations.”

Read the full story from Chris Foran.

10:42 a.m.: Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee to temporarily close 

The Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club has closed temporarily due to the the Golda Meir School being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Pieper-Hillside club, 611 W. Cherry St., served families and students in the Hillside Terrace neighborhood and Golda Meir School.  

Ald. Milele Coggs, whose district the club is located in, said she is saddened by the club’s closing and the staff “has always provided high quality care, mentorship, and service to our young people, and they will be missed.” 

“The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the BGC leadership, played a major role in the decision to close the Pieper-Hillside location,” Coggs said in a statement. “Families have been severely impacted and are rightly putting the health and safety of children and family members first, and unemployment has also been a contributing factor.” 

Coggs said local leadership at the Boys & Girls Club has made accommodations for children impacted by the closing.  

“Students will have preferential placements at the five remaining BGC legacy sites — Davis, Mary Ryan, Fitzsimonds, Daniels-Mardak, LaVarnway and at the Siefert CLC (located six blocks from the Pieper-Hillside BGC). Additionally, they indicate that all Pieper-Hillside staff will be offered positions at other Clubs sites,” Coggs said.  

— Ricardo Torres

10:05 a.m.: 10 percent of the nation’s cases are now children

The pandemic is wreaking financial havoc on families with children, and 10% of all COVID-19 cases are now kids, a pair of new surveys reveals.

Children represented only 2% of cases in April. 

The reports come as big-city public schools make news with efforts to get kids back in classrooms. New York City began offering in-class learning to elementary students on Tuesday and invites the older students back Thursday. And Los Angeles County officials voted this week to allow some schools to resume in-person instruction.

Read the full story from John Bacon and Jessica Flores of USA Today.

9:51 a.m.: Hospitals have begun wait-listing patients

Some Wisconsin hospitals are resorting to wait-listing patients, or sending them to other facilities, as the state’s coronavirus surge continues to rage.

Hospitals have been especially overwhelmed in Green Bay, Wausau and the Fox Valley, which are among the state’s latest COVID-19 hot spots.

Officials at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, for example, said the facility was at 94% capacity as of Tuesday, just days before a Saturday campaign rally for President Donald Trump that could draw thousands of supporters to the city.

State health officials on Tuesday also acknowledged Wisconsin is closer than ever to opening a state-run field hospital due to the surge in cases — even as they stressed they still hope the overflow facilities won’t be needed.

Read the full story from Mary Spicuzza, Renee Hickman, Madeline Heim and Meg Jones.

9:10 a.m.: How do you deal with COVID fatigue within your family?

Spiritual leaders and mental-health experts offered their input on how families can cope with the fatigue of COVID-19, the virus that has disrupted family routines for nearly seven months now.

“I wonder if we might end up taking a longer and broader view of preparing kids for adulthood, less beholden to the rigid timelines we’ve used for the last hundred years,” wrote one expert. “Might that free us to live more in moment, prioritizing love and care? I think the pandemic is teaching us that day-to-day well-being is vitally important; and that each of us must steward well-being as best we can.”

Read the full story from Jim Higgins.

8:30 a.m.: Trump will visit areas of Wisconsin labeled by White House as ‘red zones’

President Donald Trump is planning a pair of Saturday campaign rallies in Green Bay and La Crosse, areas recently labeled by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as coronavirus “red zones,” representing the highest level of COVID-19 community spread.

The report, released by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, says the state overall is in the red zone for cases and calls for increasing social distancing here “to the maximal degree possible.” 

The report also says Wisconsin currently has the third-highest rate of new cases in the country.

The report noted that “Intense virus transmission is seen throughout the state with only a few counties reporting less than 100 cases per 100,000 population.”

The report also urges the state to “the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline, including through supporting local authorities to pass and enforce mitigation measures.”

The report comes as Wisconsin hospitals, especially in Green Bay, the Fox Valley and Wausau, warn that they are filling up, even having to resort to wait lists and sending patients to other facilities. On Tuesday, just days before Trump’s scheduled rallies, Bellin Health System said its Green Bay hospital is at 94 percent capacity.

— Mary Spicuzza

Tuesday: Updates from Green Bay and the Fox Valley

Tuesday: Packers express concern about growing cases in their region

The Green Bay Packers may be 3-0, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the NFL season will continue onward for much longer given the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country and particularly the region in which the Packers play.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings shut down operations when a number of positive cases were revealed among Titans players and personnel. The two teams met Sunday; thus far, Minnesota has not reported any positive tests. But the Week 4 games featuring those teams are potentially facing postponement. 

Meanwhile, while the Packers haven’t reported recent positive tests, Green Bay and the rest of northeastern Wisconsin is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases.

“Me personally, I try to listen to medical professionals, Packers center Corey Linsley said. “I know some people aren’t a fan of that right now, but just being mindful of where you are … for us, we get COVID, that’s money out of our pocket. I get it, we’re well off. But everybody in here … some rookies are trying to make as much money as they possibly can. All of us are an integral part of this business. Just from our perspective, we have to be extra careful because people are going to miss out on paychecks.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Coronavirus in Wisconsin: ‘Uncontrolled spread’ forces Jefferson County to scale back contact tracing

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