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KT Gallagher: COVID-19 is a public health emergency

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE    With the rate of COVID-19 infections increasing steadily in Dunn County, the situation represents a crisis and a public health emergency, according to KT Gallagher, health officer for Dunn County.

As of the day of the Dunn County Board meeting on July 29, Dunn County had 100 cases of COVID-19, Gallagher said in her report to the county board.

The county started out with a low rate of infection, and the number remained at 29 for three weeks, she said.

Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, contract tracing to figure out who else had been exposed to the coronavirus was easier because people’s contacts were only one or two other people, and the COVID-19 infection could be traced to a known positive or by travel to a community where there was known community spread, Gallagher said.

Dunn County has been experiencing a doubling of the cases every three weeks or so. For the past two or three weeks, Dunn County has been averaging two to five new cases of COVID-19 per day, she said.

And now the circles have stopped being small. Instead of only one or two contacts, people are now reporting eight to 20 contacts, Gallagher said.

The contacts are coming through workplace exposures, family units, household gatherings, social gatherings, such as weddings or graduation parties, and at bars and restaurants, she said.

COVID-19 is a public health emergency, and at any moment there can be “a significant uptick.” The number of cases “can change overnight,” and the rate of infection “can go from a slow burn to a wildfire” in just a short period of time, Gallagher said.

On the day of the county board meeting, St. Croix County had 25 new cases of COVID-19, and Barron County had more than 70 new cases, she said.

“This is a public health crisis … we run the risk of being overwhelmed,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said she had increased her staff from four public health nurses to 11 and that administrative time to review lab results had increased by 10 hours per week.

The COVID-19 response team meets regularly, said Paul Miller, county manager.

“It’s been alarming,” he said.

The rate of COVID-19 infections has “sky-rocketed” in July, and the pandemic is still in the middle of the first wave, Miller said.

The response from the county health department and the Dunn County Board has helped slow the spread of COVID-19, he said.

Michael Rogers, county board supervisor from Menomonie, asked about the number of hospitalizations.

Dunn County is at the state average. The state has an average of 9 percent of the cases needing hospitalization, and Dunn County also has a hospitalization rate of about 9 percent, Gallagher said.

From the time someone is infected with COVID-19, there is a lag in hospitalization, she said.

Last week, two of the Dunn County cases that were hospitalized were released, she said.

So far, eight Dunn County residents have required hospitalization because of COVID-19, Gallagher said.

The week of the county board meeting, there had been no new hospitalizations, she noted.

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