COVID-19 update: Dunn County public health system overwhelmed with cases

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE    With 20 to 30 new cases per day of COVID-19, Dunn County’s public health system has become overwhelmed and can no longer conduct certain kinds of contact tracing.

Although the Dunn County Health Department has four times the number of contact tracers as there were at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s still not enough to keep up with surge in cases of coronavirus infections, said KT Gallagher, director of the Dunn County Health Department and the county’s health officer, during her weekly update via Facebook Live on October 2.

Where there is a high risk for transmission, where people work in risky situations for transmission, the Dunn County Health Department will do contact tracing, she said.

But if someone has been to a hair salon or a restaurant or had a family party or get-together, for example, and tests positive for COVID-19, that person should let his or her employer know and then identify all of their close contacts and inform them they have had a close contact with a positive case, Gallagher said.

People should take their symptoms seriously and talk to their healthcare provider. If someone is experiencing extreme symptoms, call your healthcare provider but do not go to a testing site, she said.

Many regional hospitals also are at peak capacity for the number of patients they can treat, Gallagher said.

Although being at peak capacity is not necessarily related to COVID-19 cases since hospitals do care for people with other health emergencies such as heart attack or stroke, being at peak capacity means the hospitals could be overwhelmed if there are more hospitalizations because of the virus, she said.

Where the daily number of cases exceeds 25 per 100,000 people over a week, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, or in Dunn County’s case, 12.5 cases per day with a population of 45,000, and when contact tracing cannot be done, the public health system is overwhelmed, and the hospital system could become overwhelmed, Gallagher said.

Dunn County has recently been experiencing two to three times the daily count identified by the Harvard Global Health Institute, she said.

Ages 10 to 29

All together, about 75 percent of the cases of COVID-19 in Dunn County are between the ages of 10 and 29, Gallagher said.

Ages 10 to 19 account for 25 percent of the cases, and ages 20 to 29 account for nearly 50 percent of the cases, she said.

The age group of 30 to 39 accounts for 6.2 percent of the cases, with the percentage decreasing for each older age group, and 80 year-olds account for about 1 percent of the cases, Gallagher said.

The shift to a younger demographic has occurred during September, she noted.

About 7 percent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have no symptoms, Gallagher said.

Recent news articles report that children make up 10 percent of coronavirus cases, an increase from 2 percent last spring.

In Dunn County, it is not true that 10 percent of the cases are children in grades K-12, Gallagher said.

Although 10 to 20 percent of school children in Dunn County may be in quarantine at any given time, most of those are due to a close contact with a positive case, she said.


If people travel out of their home county or out of state to an area where there is high community spread of the virus, Gallagher said they should still self-quarantine upon their return.

If you were not able to social distance and take other precautions, upon your return, you should work or attend school from home for two weeks, she said.

Self-quarantining upon your return home is not a mandate, but what is a mandate is if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 — stay home, Gallagher said.

10 inside

A health alert issued on Friday states people should limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people.

Outdoor gatherings, where there is better air circulation, are more protective, but people should still social distance and take other precautions, just as they do for indoor gatherings, Gallagher said.

Dunn County has seen a certain number of cases related to house parties, sleepovers, bands playing music and at bars, with a certain number of people who are pre-symptomatic, she said.

If people can stay home, if they can work from home, then they should do so, and people should also consider curbside pickup from restaurants and for groceries, Gallagher said.


Dunn County has now had one death from COVID-19.

Gallagher says she is reluctant to say too much about any of the COVID-19 cases because people’s health information is private.

What Gallagher was willing to say is that the person who died had spent a long time in the hospital and had fought hard against the virus.

In consultation with doctors and loved ones, the person made a decision to be removed from oxygen. The person did not die alone and was allowed to have his or her significant other in the bed because the significant other had recovered from COVID-19, Gallagher said.

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