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COVID-19 update: “Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Do your part. Stay home.”

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE    With 667 active cases of COVID-19 in Dunn County alone as of November 25, hospitals in the region — and in the state as a whole — are overwhelmed with patients.

All hospital systems are at surge capacity, said KT Gallagher, director of Dunn County Public Health and the county’s health officer, during her weekly update via Facebook Live on November 20.

The Marshfield and Mayo health systems have issued notices about being at capacity, and they have had to be creative with staffing and with where they put hospital beds, Gallagher said.

According to news reports, hospitals have had to resort to putting patient beds in hallways, lobbies and even ambulance garages. But finding spaces for extra beds is less of a problem than keeping hospitals staffed because of the pandemic. Extra beds will not help anyone if there are not enough doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists to care for the patients occupying the beds.

“Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Do your part. Stay home,” Gallagher said.

As of November 25, there were also 12 deaths in Dunn County due to COVID-19.

The majority of the deaths, although not all, were people over the age of 60. And the majority of the deaths, although not all, had underlying health issues, Gallagher said.

“The challenge is, what I can fight off as an annoyance, or even a really bad illness but not that bad, could be really impactful in someone you love,” Gallagher said.

“We are seeing a wide variety of people getting sick. Young to old. Healthy to not so. It is important to keep our whole community safe,” she said.

Contacts

One person who submitted a question wanted to know how many days to count back for close contacts.

The Dunn County Health Department has been so overwhelmed with active cases of COVID-19 that people are being asked to do their own contact tracing.

If you have tested positive for the coronavirus and have had close contact with people — defined as being closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes cumulatively — count back 48 hours either from the first symptoms or from the positive test result, Gallagher said.

Some people are asymptomatic when they test positive for COVID-19, she noted.

Indoors

Another person asked if indoor gatherings with a total of 25 people in two different rooms would be all right.

Gallagher said she encourages all groups and organizations to not meet in person.

Some people do not like to meet remotely using computer technology, or they like the social aspect of meeting in person, or they have technology challenges that make it difficult to meet remotely, but not meeting in person is the best option to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gallagher said.

Ten people or less in a group gathering is the recommendation, but with with the kind of community spread there is in Dunn County, Gallagher said she highly recommends not gathering with anyone outside of your household.

Quarantine

Another person was concerned about people not isolating or not quarantining and then going out in public and “hiding behind a mask.”

The term “isolating” is used when someone is actively sick with COVID-19 or has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the term “quarantine” is used when someone has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It is imperative you stay home, completely by yourself, when you’re isolating with an active COVID infection,” Gallagher said.

Masks limit the amount of virus escaping from someone who is positive for the virus, “but when we are out in public, knowingly exposing people, that’s not right,” she said.

“If someone is out when they should be isolating, I will write orders to enforce that isolation,” Gallagher said.

“We need to keep our community safe. If you are told by public health to isolate — isolate. If you’re told to quarantine — quarantine,” she said.

Another person asked about the length of isolation and quarantine because some employers are saying stay home 10 days and others are saying stay home 14 days.

Some employers want less risk, so they are saying to stay home for 14 days, and sometimes there is confusion about the guidelines, Gallagher said.

The general recommendation is to isolate for 10 days if you test positive and to only go out in public after 24 hours of no fever and not using a fever reducer. The general recommendation is to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19, she said.

Employers

Another person asked why the health department is not reporting on large Dunn County employers who have subjected their employees to coronavirus exposure.

Gallagher said she has worked for many months with employers, and many of them have implemented mitigation strategies to help keep their employees safe from exposure to the virus.

The public health department works directly with employers, she noted.

If someone has a concern about specific employer, call the health department at 715-232-2388, and the health department will follow up, Gallagher said.

Schools

One person asked why schools in Dunn County are open and whether the health department would make the call to close schools in the county.

In Madison, the county’s ability to close all schools as a public health order is being litigated, Gallagher said.

People feel strongly on both sides whether children should or should not be in school, she said.

Schools in Dunn County allow parents to decide on their risk tolerance. Colfax, Elk Mound and Boyceville have synchronous virtual learning with open Zoom/open video so students can learn at home with their teachers just as their classmates do who are in person, Gallagher said.

For those parents who cannot have their children learning at home because they have to work, the school provides a place where students can be in school in person, she said, noting that Menomonie has a “safer at home” policy.

Gallagher said she has been asking districts to prioritize in-person instruction with metrics, such as how many students and teachers are out of school, and how are the hospital systems doing, and how is the public health department doing.

Kids need access to a space to learn. They need access to the Internet. And they need access to food. Schools in Dunn County are trying to find a place in the middle, she said.

“There is no right answer to this. There is no ‘winning.’ It’s about doing what’s best for us and our families,” Gallagher said.

Dental care

One person asked about dental care.

If you need an emergency extraction of a tooth or have an abscess, “you should not have to live with that kind of pain and infection,” Gallagher said.

On the other hand, if the dental procedure is more cosmetic in nature and is not an emergency, you should determine your risk tolerance and maybe put off a visit to the dentist, she said.

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