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Health officer: Sauk County coronavirus metrics improve, but precautions still necessary
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Health officer: Sauk County coronavirus metrics improve, but precautions still necessary

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Sauk County’s COVID-19 metrics have improved over the last two weeks even with schools open, but Health Officer Tim Lawther warned that now is not the time to relax measures meant to slow the virus’ spread.

Though the county’s case numbers and community spread remain high, they are trending in the right direction.

“We think that if we can continue this that maybe we can get a handle on this before flu season really hits hard and it becomes an even bigger challenge for everybody,” Lawther said in a phone interview Monday. “But it requires everybody to do their part, whether they’re in a bar or restaurant or any other place, quite frankly.”

Between Aug. 28 and Sept. 10, the county failed in two of the 11 metrics the Sauk County Health Department reports weekly: cases per day and community spread.

However, it has not seen outbreaks in schools, unlike in Portage, where last week seventh-grade students were moved temporarily to virtual learning. During a weekly public conference call Monday, Lawther complimented the measures Sauk County schools have implemented to reopen for hybrid and in-person learning, which started at the beginning of September.

“I think that if we were going to see a huge outbreak as a result of school opening, we probably would have seen it by now or in the next couple of days,” Lawther said, adding that officials are constantly re-evaluating the data and measures related to schools.

Three out of four county-wide metrics used to inform how schools should operate are under the threshold for full-person learning, but community spread remains high in the “minimal capacity” range.

Despite the apparent success so far, Lawther said he doesn’t expect schools to reopen for full in-person learning this semester.

“Overall, I’m choosing to be very optimistic with these numbers. Again, one period of time does not mean that we are out of the woods. You know, there are several things that have happened in recent times that may present us some challenges as we go forward,” he said, referencing the Labor Day holiday, and events like the Automotion Classic Car Show in Wisconsin Dells.

He estimated it will be at least another week before the county sees the full effects from any Labor Day gatherings, because symptoms can take two weeks to manifest after a person is exposed to the virus.

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UW-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County has not had any positive cases as of Monday, according to the UW-Platteville COVID-19 Dashboard. The Platteville campus has had more than 70.

Sauk County health officials have been working with the Baraboo branch campus to establish a case notification system between the two entities, Lawther said. According to campus spokesman John Christensen, the two have also discussed a possible partnership to provide on-campus testing but don’t yet have a specific plan.

County data

There were 69 new positive COVID-19 cases in Sauk County during the latest two-week period, which is much higher than the goal of having fewer than six but marks an improvement over the previous two weeks. During the Monday conference call, Lawther said the county averaged 4.9 new cases per day, the lowest it’s had in “quite some time.” It averaged 7.9 in the last 14-day period and aims to have below 0.45.

At 41%, the proportion of cases not linked to a known source — called community spread — is better than the 45% in the previous 14-day period but still twice as high as the department’s goal of less than 20%.

A little more than one-third of active cases are located in Baraboo.

Lawther said he’s “thrilled” with improvements labs have made to report positive test results to the county in a timely manner. With the increase in tests conducted statewide, the county has struggled to get test results quickly enough to effectively quarantine those who have been exposed to the virus. In the last two-week period, 88% of positive cases were reported to the Sauk County Health Department within two days of being tested, exceeding the 85% goal.

As of Monday, 718 Sauk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the area’s first case in March. Twenty-three new cases were reported to the health department since Thursday and aren’t included in the 14-day in-depth surveillance data. The agency doesn’t yet know if those weekend cases represent the start of a trend, are the result of large events or are simply a “blip on the screen,” Lawther said.

The county has seen 29 COVID-19 cases hospitalized since March, five of which occurred in the most recent 14-day period. Lawther said the new hospitalizations are worth paying attention to but aren’t a significant concern.

All three hospitals in Sauk County are doing “incredibly well” with their metrics, Lawther said, including testing for health care workers, their ability to treat patients and the number of health care workers who contract COVID-19.

Hispanic, Native American and Black residents continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. People of color account for a higher percentage of Sauk County cases and hospitalizations than they represent in the overall population.

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

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