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Community spread grows in Sauk County but coronavirus stats still mostly positive
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Community spread grows in Sauk County but coronavirus stats still mostly positive

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Spc. Travis Bolbt, West Bend, of the Wisconsin National Guard, takes a nose swab Oct. 12 at the COVID-19 community testing event at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo.

Local coronavirus cases remain low, but testing has also dropped Local case numbers still low, but testing has dropped significantly and Sauk County is reporting an increase in community spread.

“The most recent seven days, we’re averaging about seven cases a day, so it is really encouraging to see those new cases per day decreasing,” said Siobhan Allen, who manages the county’s COVID-19 data, in Sauk County’s latest weekly COVID-19 update video.

On Monday, Sauk County reported 16 new cases since Friday, bringing its cumulative total to 5,184 confirmed cases and 237 probable cases. Seventy-one are currently active.

In Columbia County, the health department reported 13 new cases over the weekend. It has had a total of 4,958 confirmed cases, 74 of which are still active, and 374 probable cases.

Both counties have high COVID-19 activity, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

But fewer tests are also being conducted in both counties, and Sauk County is back in the worst category for community spread of the coronavirus after improving for a couple of weeks. Community spread represents positive cases with no known source, which increased from 29% to 40% of cases in Sauk County over the last two weeks. Columbia County does not report community spread numbers.

How and where to get COVID-19 vaccinations or testing in Sauk County

Sauk County’s testing has decreased by 28% in the last seven-day period compared to the previous seven days, Allen said. Two testing events were canceled due to weather last week, and this week two more will have shorter hours because of the cold: At Merrimac Fire & Rescue, testing will be from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday and at Sauk Prairie Healthcare’s Wellspring location in Prairie du Sac, it will be from 1-4 p.m. Thursday.

According to the county’s data hub, it’s currently averaging 305 tests conducted per day. It was averaging about 510 per day in November.

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Allen noted that the decline in testing could partly account for the decline in cases.

“We recognize that a lot of this is due to two of our community testing sites being closed due to winter weather, but it is still concerning to us that the testing numbers are decreasing, especially when we look at our community spread,” Allen said. “... That is telling us that there is cases out there that we don’t know about, that are not isolating, that are spreading COVID,” likely without knowing it, because the virus can be spread before a person experiences symptoms, and some cases never develop symptoms.

She urged residents to get tested if they have even one symptom, if they think they’ve been exposed to a case or if they are frequently around people from outside of their household.

Jessie Phalen, public health nurse manager, warned that a variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Wisconsin and is known to spread easier than the original strain. She said current vaccines still seem to be effective against the variant, though studies are ongoing.

“This increased transmissibility means that it is even more important that we all do our part to stop the spread — continue to stay home, wear a mask, wash your hands and physically distance from other people,” Phalen said.

Because fewer new cases are cropping up each day than before, the Sauk County Health Department has been able to resume contact tracing, Phalen said. In October, the county had reached “crisis mode” amid a steep rise in cases and the number of close contacts per case, resulting in its inability to fully conduct contact tracing. Phalen noted that some of those calls are being made by tracers with the state health department.

Deaths

Though COVID-19 deaths in Wisconsin have slowed since December, local health departments reported Monday that three Columbia County residents died over the weekend from the disease, as did two Sauk County residents. Columbia County reported three confirmed COVID-19 deaths over the previous two weeks and one probable COVID-19 death, while Sauk County had just one in the same period.

Overall, the coronavirus has caused 39 confirmed deaths and six probable case deaths in Sauk County as of Monday and 50 confirmed deaths in Columbia County. Columbia County, which reports probable deaths and certain other data weekly, has had eight probable case deaths as of Wednesday.

Interim Columbia County Health Officer Ellen Ellingsworth did not return a request for comment.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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