COVID-19 Problems In Southeastern Wisconsin Extend Beyond Milwaukee County

May 13, 2020

In southeastern Wisconsin, the 4,000-plus COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County get most of the news coverage. But Racine and Kenosha counties rank third and fourth, respectively, among Wisconsin counties in COVID-19 cases, each with more than 700. 

Here's what's fueling some of the numbers: In Racine County, about 15% of people taking the COVID-19 test are coming up positive. That's almost double the state rate. 

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Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox says about 80% of city residents testing positive are Latino or African American. She says there may be a connection to recent family gatherings.

"We go back to Easter Sunday, with a lot of family gatherings and we've had different exposures through those opportunities. But also, it's community spread,” Bowersox told WUWM.

Some of those who get sick wind up in Racine hospitals like Ascension All Saints. Hospital President Kristin McManmon says COVID-19 patients have been on the rise.

"It picked up around April 21 and has not really changed. In fact, we're at some of our highest inpatient COVID-positive patients this week,” McManmon said.

McManmom says due to the increase, Ascension All Saints is still postponing elective health care services.

Racine officials hope to get a better handle on the spread of the disease and are talking with the Wisconsin National Guard about a COVID-19 testing site in the city.

This drive-thru COVID-19 testing site recently opened in Kenosha County.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

In Kenosha County, officials attribute some of the increase in cases to more testing. Recently, there were a few dozen positive tests at two meatpacking plants. But County Health Officer Jennifer Freiheit says the outbreak at those sites has been contained. 

"We basically have put under certain restrictions, as far as everybody who has come in close contact or was positive. We have been able to isolate them or contain those close contacts through quarantine. Also, we’re putting in several measures with the businesses," Freiheit said.

Freiheit says overall, her department is working with about 240 firms to increase the use of masks and disinfectants. She says a next step is to get all county nursing home residents tested, part of a promise Gov. Tony Evers made to complete COVID-19 testing in more than 370 Wisconsin nursing facilities.