Coronavirus: Wisconsin Confirms Third Positive Test; UWM Extends Spring Break
For the most up-to-date information, read WUWM's March 19 coronavirus post.
Updated at 5:35 p.m. CT
At least three people in Wisconsin have contracted the coronavirus, state health officials said on Tuesday.
News of the third positive case came on the same day that UW-Milwaukee announced that one of its employees has been tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Test results won't be available until the end of the week. But due to concerns about coronavirus, UWM is extending its spring break by a week.
Also, a western Wisconsin school district canceled classes on Tuesday so that its facilities can be thoroughly cleaned. Someone sickened by the virus attended an event at its high school last weekend.
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Health officials say the third Wisconsin person testing positive for COVID-19 is a Dane County resident who "was exposed while traveling in the United States and is currently isolated at home." The second person lives in Pierce County and was also exposed while traveling in the U.S. and is isolated at home. The first person, a Dane County resident diagnosed in early February, "was exposed to known cases" while traveling in China.
“We are working with our local health departments to make sure everyone who has been in contact with our confirmed cases is notified. We continue to urge state residents to take precautions to avoid illness,” said State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers in a news statement.
To avoid becoming infected, health officials reiterate the importance of thorough hand-washing, or using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available.
Ayers recommends that people avoid traveling to places where the new coronavirus is spreading. She says that includes Seattle, Wash., which has recorded more than 20 deaths because of the virus. Other areas include northern California, and parts of Florida and New York.
“We recommend anyone with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney or heart disease, anything that places an individual at greater risk for a more serious disease to be very judicious in any non-essential travel,” Ayers said during a Tuesday new briefing.
She expects the virus to eventually become more widespread in the Midwest. Ayers says at some point, Wisconsin may be forced to declare a state of emergency.
The state Department of Health Services (DHS) officials announced Monday that two new facilities are conducting testing. They're commercial labs, Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp, with facilities in the Milwaukee area.
Authorities added that they're changing procedures for coronavirus testing, allowing doctors to order tests for the virus without having to first go through state health officials.
DHS says testing facilities have been able to keep up with demand — so far. Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk says with the additional capacity, the number of samples sent in for testing may rise, but that won't necessarily result in a larger number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin.
Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the state Bureau of Communicable Diseases, says a number of people who've been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S. have not traveled to places where the illness is widespread.
“While overall, the number of cases is so low, what this means is that the risk of person to person transmission in the United States has increased,” Westergaard says.
Officials last week suggested that residents stock up on two weeks worth of food and water in case they need to be isolated for coronavirus. That caused some people to fear that the water supply was in danger of becoming contaminated. But Traci DeSalvo, communicable diseases epidemiology section chief for the state health department, says that wasn't the reason for the suggestion.
“We recommend that two-week supply of food and water as a general preparedness plan for households in the event of a natural disaster where there might be impacts to the water supply," DeSalvo says.
Some events are now canceled due to coronavirus, including SXSW. And with the Democratic National Convention coming to Milwaukee in July, some people wonder how that could impact the event that's expected to bring about 50,000 to the city.
Officials say it's too early to predict the concerns that'll be related to Coronavirus this summer. But they add that for the time being, groups planning an event with 10 or more people should consider canceling.