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Coronavirus: A Look Inside The North Shore Health Department

Courtesy of Ann Christiansen
Inside the North Shore Health Department's operations center.

While cases are much higher in the city of Milwaukee, confirmed cases of the coronavirus are on the rise in North Shore communities as well. Director/Health Officer Ann Christiansen gives WUWM a glimpse of the inner workings of the North Shore Health Department.

Christiansen leads the health department's small team, serving communities north of Milwaukee —Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood, and Whitefish Bay. They operate seven days a week in a temporary work space that allows the team to keep their distance — sticking to the 6-foot-or-greater rule.

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Most of their time is spent on the phone following up on people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Christiansen explains: "To assess essentially where they’ve been within the last several weeks and determine who they might have potentially encountered ... and then reach out to those who’ve been exposed ... and to determine what the next steps are for those individuals."

This is what public health professionals are trained to do, she says. But this crisis comes with additional obstacles — there aren’t enough tests, there isn’t a vaccine.

Listen to WUWM's Susan Bence full interview with Ann Christiansen, Director/Health Officer with the North Shore Health Department.

Credit North Shore Health Department
Ann Christiansen says her team is working long hours to try to keep up with coronavirus outreach in attempt to reduce the number of residents impacted by COVID-19.

“There’s no kind of clear picture for some of these families ...  And remembering the incubation period is 14 days, so for some households, this disease course may play out over a long period of time so that if there are a number of household members ...  we are just not knowing whether everybody would get the disease or whether it would only affect certain members of the household,” she says.

Christiansen hopes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can help figure that out.

At just about the same time that she set up North Shore’s operations center, CDC staffers arrived in the area. She says this is in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

On any given day up to five CDC researchers work out of her office. “They’re here at the North Shore Health Department as well as the city of Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, the Milwaukee public health laboratory there,” Christiansen explains.

Christiansen says the CDC is working with 20-30 families impacted by COVID-19, and the researchers are interviewing and providing testing in homes.

“[This is] helping us to know more about this virus that is so novel for all of us. So, the more information they can gather, the more we’re going to have a better assessment of who is at risk of getting the virus and who might be protected from that,” she says.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.