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RACINE – The City of Racine and surrounding areas are experiencing “very high levels” of COVID-19 virus and significant community spread, the Racine Public Health Department reported Thursday.

In the past seven days, 480 contracted COVID-19 within the city. The positivity test rate was 37 percent. This rapid increase in the number of daily new cases in the past several weeks had surpassed the number of positives seen earlier this year since the pandemic started.

Because of the case escalation, the Racine Public Health Department’s attempts to investigate cases and conduct contact tracing “have become increasingly strained and difficult,” according to a news release.

 “This is a significant disappointment, in that individuals are not taking the spread of this virus seriously and following established guidelines from the WHO/CDC/DHS/ and this Department,” Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Day Bowersox said in a news release. “This includes staying at home if ill, wearing a facial mask appropriately, including the covering of both nose and mouth, and physical/social distancing of six feet or greater.”

Looking to get a COVID-19 test?

Local hospital staffing becoming an issue

A source that did not want to be named told the Racine County Eye that Ascension-All Saints has:

  • 49 patients with COVID-19
  • five additional patients are being treated for Covid like symptoms and are pending laboratory results
  • 30 employees that have COVID-19.

Staffing is the biggest issue. The hospital has National Guard nurses there, but it still isn’t enough, the source said.

To put this into context, Ascension-All Saints Hospital has 343 staffed beds and 39 ICU beds for all medical issues, according to John Hopkins University.

“There are more employees that are out with symptoms but have not tested positive,” the source said. “Surgeries are being evaluated weekly to determine the availability of all interdisciplinary staff members needed to support the immediate needs of surgical patients. Outpatient surgeries are still being done at this point but may change as staffing and patient needs are fluid and can change quickly.”

To frame the problem differently, the state often looks at the rate of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population. Wisconsin health officials define a very high case rate as exceeding 350 cases per 100,000. But Racine County’s rate is 4,600 per 100,000 in population, said Interim-Secretary Andrea Palm during a media briefing call Wednesday.

“In every region, we have hospitals reporting staffing strain, as well as hospitals reporting, that they are at peak census for expecting patients for their hospital beds, and for their ICU beds,” Palm said. “This means that hospitals are at or near capacity and that their options are limited when it comes to the need for more beds, and for admission.”

Contact tracing being triaged

This has also put a strain on contact tracing, a key element in containing the virus’s spread. With county health departments struggling to keep up with the workload, they now have to prioritize those calls, Wisconsin Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard.

So when we talk about a crisis standard of contact tracing, we have to prioritize. That’s what we mean when we refer to triage,” he said. “The investigations that we do make sure that it gets the most benefit for those contacts.”

This is where the City of Racine Health Department is with its caseload.

Starting Friday (Nov. 6), the Health Department will notify individuals with positive COVID-19 cases in this order:  

  • Age 65 and older. 
  • Children who are 18 years old and younger. 
  • Individuals are residing in congregate living environments. 
  • All other individuals (as capacity allows).  

Bowersox expressed frustration with those in the community not taking the virus seriously

“I have stated on several occasions, the continued increase in the number of positives throughout the community would eventually compromise this Department’s ability to notify and interact effectively. I once again remind/request individuals to protect themselves and those individuals they are involved in. 

“It is a personal choice to ignore the guidelines and spread this virus throughout the community, compromising the health of others and contributing to the economic devastation of this pandemic. Personal responsibility is the only way to slow the spread of this virus, which is causing havoc with our finite systems.” 

Individuals who test positive for the COVID-19 virus are reminded to: 

  • Stay home and isolate for a minimum of 10 days after symptom onset. 
  • If you did not have symptoms and were tested, remain isolated for ten days from the date of testing. 
  • You can return to work or school on day 11 if free of fever and see an improvement in other symptoms for 24 hours. 
  • Notify your employer or school if you are positive. 
  • Notify your close contacts and ask them to quarantine for 14 days from the last day of contact with you.

The rising number of positive cases means that the Racine Health Department may not notify employers of positive cases among employees. The department also will not verify that the employees return to work. Employers are asked to discuss return-to-work dates with their employees.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...