By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — After the state Supreme Court struck down the Wisconsin Department of Health Services “Safer at Home” order May 13, many businesses re-opened immediately and went back to “business as usual.”
KT Gallagher, director of the Dunn County Health Department, responded to a question posed for Gallagher’s weekly COVID-19 update via Facebook June 19 that noted many people are “under the illusion everything is back normal” concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and asked Gallagher for her recommendations for traveling and shopping.
There are harm reduction strategies people can use to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19, Gallagher said.
If you are going to get your nails done or your hair cut, or if you are going to dine in at a restaurant rather than do take-out or curbside pickup — wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you enter the business, wash your hands or use sanitizer before you eat and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after leaving the business, Gallagher said.
Physical distancing from other people will help keep decrease the risk of the virus spreading as well, and keeping a distance of six feet or nine feet between people is recommended, she said.
Another strategy is not touching other people — no handshakes and no hugs, Gallagher said.
And if you are considering going out for personal care, such as a haircut, or want to dine out or go shopping, and you feel sick — stay home, she said.
Another question asked if Gallagher is still recommending self-quarantine for 14 days after people attend a mass gathering, such as a wedding or a sporting event, or if they travel to another community or another state where there is community spread of COVID-19.
“I am,” Gallagher said.
Self-quarantine is a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially if someone lives with or has contact with vulnerable people, she said.
Self-quarantining for 14 days gives your immune system time to respond, Gallagher said.
Depending on the size of the viral load at the time of infection, symptoms can take up to 14 days to develop, and it can take up to 14 days to test positive for COVID-19, she said.
Self-quarantine for 14 days allows people to keep their germs to themselves, especially if they are around vulnerable people where they work, or in their faith community, or if they come in contact with vulnerable family members, Gallagher said.
“I know that’s a heavy lift … but it does make a difference,” she said.
Gallagher said people should also realize they may have a co-worker who has underlying health issues they are unaware of that may make the co-worker more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Another question focused on the size of mass gatherings allowed in Dunn County as compared to Eau Claire County.
Dunn County is recommending no more than 25 people indoors and no more than 50 people outdoors, while at the time of the June 19 update, Eau Claire was, by order, allowing up to 50 people indoors and up to 100 people outdoors.
The Eau Claire County City/County Health Department recently changed their order to no more than 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.
One of the differences between Eau Claire County and Dunn County is that Eau Claire County is making orders that are enforceable. Dunn County is issuing recommendations that are not orders, Gallagher said.
Another reason for the difference in the size of the gatherings allowed is the size of the health departments, she said.
The Eau Claire City/County Health Department is five times the size of the Dunn County Health Department, while Eau Claire County has only about twice the population of Dunn County, Gallagher said.
Having a much larger department means there are more resources available and there are more people available to do contact tracing, she said.
The size of the Dunn County Health Department puts limitations on the department’s ability to respond, Gallagher said.
Because of having a smaller department, it becomes a matter of “balance” — what is safer and how can the health department follow up, she said.
If someone does not know he or she is sick because symptoms of COVID-19 can take up to 14 days to develop, and that person goes to a gathering, the question becomes “what can we get our arms around” in terms of contact tracing, Gallagher said.
After someone tests positive for COVID-19, the health department works to contact all of that person’s contacts within 48 hours, she said.
Another question asked about telling the difference between allergies and COVID-19, which share many of the same symptoms: scratchy throat, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing if asthma symptoms are caused by allergies, loss of smell and taste.
Gallagher said she consulted with the health department’s medical advisor because allergies and COVID-19 do share many symptoms.
One important difference is if the symptoms are different. For example, if someone is allergic to tree pollen but there is now not any tree pollen, it would be a good idea to be tested for COVID-19, Gallagher said.
There are also some symptoms of COVID-19 that are not common with allergies, including fever and diarrhea, especially if those symptoms are in conjunction with the more common symptoms of COVID-19, she said.
If the symptoms go away when using over-the-counter allergy medications or prescription medications, then it is likely the symptoms are caused by allergies, Gallagher said.
And for people who have asthma, if the symptoms can be controlled by your prescription asthma medications, or if someone only uses a rescue inhaler, but the inhaler is able to control the asthma symptoms, then it is likely asthma, she said.
When considering whether symptoms are allergies or COVID-19, consider the time of the symptoms, the quality of the symptoms and how long the symptoms persist, especially with the use of medications. If the symptoms are different than regular allergy symptoms, consider getting tested for COVID-19, Gallagher said.
Gallagher also presented a short demonstration on the proper way to wear masks.
Masks are used to protect other people — “I wear a mask to keep you safe,” she said.
At all of the county buildings, Gallagher noted, people are required to wear masks when they are away from their own desks.
A properly fitting mask goes over the nose and under the chin and fits tightly with no gaps along the sides or around the top and bottom, she said.
Do not wear the mask below your nose, because if you sneeze, the mask will not be able to contain all of the big droplets. Also, do not continually touch your mask or pull it down from your face, Gallagher said.
And do not haphazardly store your mask below your chin, on top of your head or around your neck., she said.
One good way to store a mask is in a paper bag. Put the mask in the bag by the ear loops and pull it out of the bag by the ear loops so you are not touching the potentially contaminated surface of the mask, Gallagher said.
You may also want to use hand sanitizer before putting your mask on and after taking it off. Hand sanitizer should be 60 percent isopropyl alcohol or 80 percent ethanol, she said.
If you are wearing a cloth mask, when the mask becomes soiled, put it in the laundry and wash it. For people who wear glasses, using soap and warm water to clean your glasses can really help to keep your glasses from fogging up when you are wearing the mask, Gallagher said.
A tight-fitting mask also helps to keep eyeglasses from fogging up, she said.