First case of COVID-19 in Portage Co. confirmed, health dept. says

By Brandi Makuski

Portage Co. on Wednesday confirmed its first case of COVID-19.

Health Officer Gary Garske said that one person tested positive for coronavirus on March 25. The positive case was announced during the county emergency management’s daily 6 p.m. briefing.

The individual is currently in isolation and receiving medical care at an undisclosed location, Garske said.

Garske said it goes to show how quickly things can change during a pandemic. At an earlier interview on Wednesday, Garske said the county had no confirmed cases.

The State Hygiene Lab in Madison on Wednesday reported just over 15,000 samples have been tested since Feb. 5. Of those, 10,089 tested negative and 585 tests were confirmed as positive for COVID-19.

Portage Co. now joins Clark, Marathon, Vilas, Waupaca, and Wood counties in Central Wisconsin with positive cases.

The statewide death toll on March 25 was updated to six.

According to the latest available information from Garske’s office, 79 people have been tested to date across Portage Co., and 31 tests are still pending.

Testing Tiers

Garske said there were several remote labs stationed near the state hygiene lab in Madison conducting the tests, which are transported by Wisconsin State Troopers.

Testing is conducted based on a prioritized, four-tier system: people who are hospitalized with critical respiratory illnesses, anyone with pre-existing health conditions who are showing symptoms, and anyone with a fever and signs of a lower respiratory tract illness who has traveled within 14 days of symptom onset and are given the highest testing priority. In the second tier are hospitalized patients and residents in long-term care facilities with unexplained fevers, and health care workers.

Tier 3 includes patients in outpatient settings who need the influenza criteria, including people with conditions like diabetes and congestive heart failure. Tier 4 includes “People targeted for community surveillance by public health or infectious disease officials.”

Portage Co. Emergency Management Director Bob Weinert on Wednesday continued to urge the public to follow recommendations outlined by the Centers for Disease Control.

Weinert said his office is practicing the six-foot social distancing recommended by state and federal health organizations. The county is managing the crisis, he said, largely by video chat, conference phone calls, and email.

“We’re super busy,” Weinert said on Wednesday. “We are monitoring things, just in case things get going so we can be ahead of the game; that’s what it’s all about for us.”

Weinert said social distancing is a “huge part” of avoiding exposure to the coronavirus.

“If people would just adhere to what the governor is suggesting…stay home, read a book, enjoy time with your family,” he said. “Don’t go out unless you have to. That’s important to help in this battle with the virus.”

Garske said there have been tests for COVID-19 conducted in the county, but did not immediately know how many. New results are published on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ website daily at 2 p.m.

Under the latest order from Gov. Tony Evers, all nonessential businesses were ordered closed by Wednesday. Anyone leaving their homes should continue avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people and remain at least six feet away from others.

Residents should continue practicing good hand hygiene by washing their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. People should also avoid touching their faces, eyes, and mouth when in public.