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Dane Co. enters crisis mode for COVID-19 contact tracing, hospitals face challenges

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 12:12 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 10:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases, the Dane Co. health officials are switching into its crisis model for contact tracing, saying they cannot efficiently follow-up with every positive case.

“When we consistently have well over 150 new cases per day, we cannot contact all cases and contacts quickly enough to effectively disrupt the spread of COVID-19,” Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County Janel Heinrich said.

Heinrich pointed out that her agency isn’t the only one having trouble keeping up with all of its cases. Rock Co., for example, was so inundated with cases it could not report all of the negative tests until an update to the state reporting system simplified the process.

Under its crisis standards, Public Health officials will contact people who do test positive and explain to them how they should isolate themselves. That means a PHMDC contact tracer may not be able to follow-up with them.

“Our community has crossed a threshold with COVID-19 and sadly we have reached a place where if you venture out and come into contact with someone with this virus, it may take a while for you and your family to be notified,” County Executive Joe Parisi said.

The agency said its focus is on making sure everyone who tests positive knows it. Those who do are asked to reach out to their close contacts on their own. The PHMDC website includes guidelines for people who are sick or who were possibly exposed.

The agency plans to return to contact tracing when case counts fall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when that will be.

“We all have the ability to be leaders during this pandemic,” said City of Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway. “As an individual, you can be a leader in your community by staying home as much as possible and taking precautions if you must go out.”

Dane County’s healthcare system is also facing challenges.

“Things are far worse than they were even a few days ago,” Nasia Safdar, Medical Director of Infection Control at UW Hospital and Clinics said.

Health officials said covid-19 patients are coming in from other parts of the state and meeting the staffing demands is a concern.

“Just like we’re seeing infections in the community, we’re also seeing infections in health care workers, and that means that many members of that critical work force are out for several days,” Safdar said.

Health officials are calling on traveling nurses for help.

“We seem to be on a fast, increasing trajectory that’s not in a favorable direction,” Safdar said.

PHMDC also offered a reminder for helping containing the spread of the virus:

  • Stay six feet away from others
  • Wear your mask
  • Don’t hang out in big groups
  • Don’t go to events like weddings or parties
  • If you feel sick, stay home from work and activities
  • Get tested. Click here for more testing information

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