JVG_200520_HEALTH

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard help with COVID-19 testing at a drive-thru site at Krueger Park in Beloit.

JANESVILLE

Rock County can expect to see more COVID-19 cases as businesses start reopening, a county health official said.

COVID-19 will remain in the community as long as there is no vaccine or treatment, said Nick Zupan, epidemiologist for the Rock County Public Health Department.

Zupan hopes future increases will be gradual and that efforts made in recent months will prevent local health care systems from being overrun, he said.

Rock County’s safer-at-home order will be replaced with the first phase of a “phased reopening plan” to go into effect Thursday morning, county Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval said in a press conference Tuesday.

It is “reasonable” to assume the county will see an increase in cases as businesses reopen, Zupan said.

“What I am hoping is the increase is not drastic but is gradual and the cases we are seeing are not in vulnerable populations,” Zupan said.

People who are elderly, have ongoing health conditions or have compromised immune systems are considered to be high risk.

There have been 438 cases of COVID-19 in Rock County and 14 deaths.

An additional 74 people have probable cases, meaning they have shown signs of the disease and have not been tested or their tests came back inconclusive.

Projections from the health department show Rock County could see a peak of 933 cases May 31.

These models, however, are always changing and should be used as an estimate, not a certainty, Zupan said.

Each day, Zupan plugs into the model Rock County’s population and the number of new cases. A formula in the model is used by epidemiologists to predict disease trends.

The formula relies largely on the change in case numbers each day.

Predictions have changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic.

Models in early May predicted Rock County would peak with 3,550 cases in early June.

A spike in cases stemming from an outbreak at the Birds Eye food processing plant in Darien heavily influenced those numbers, Zupan said.

Since the outbreak, the number of local cases has leveled, Zupan said.

The county has a series of benchmarks it is using to guide its recommendations on reopening. The benchmarks are detailed on the county’s online reopening dashboard.

The following benchmarks have been met, according to the health department.

  • Hospitals in the past week have tested all symptomatic clinical staff who work with patients.
  • Hospital facilities are not damaged, unsafe or using non-patient care areas for patient care.
  • Hospitals report having “critical supplies.”
  • The number of people seeking care for COVID-19 symptoms has been on a downward trajectory for 14 days.

The other six benchmarks are in progress, according to the dashboard.

For example, the county hopes to have fewer than 5% of tests come back positive when averaged out across 14 days. As of now, the 14-day average is 7%.

Rock County has been testing 120 to 240 people each day. The goal is to test more than 240 a day.

The number of health care workers infected has remained steady over the last 14 days. Officials aim for the number to decrease.

One-third of the county’s ICU beds are available, just short of the county’s goal of 35%.

Health officials want to improve the speed of contact tracing for infected people. Tracers are able to reach 50% to 75% of a person’s contacts within 48 hours.

The goal is to contact more than 75% of contacts in that time frame.

There is concern over the ability to isolate infected individuals who might not be able to isolate at home, such as those living with vulnerable individuals.

The county has plans in place to provide isolation and quarantine facilities.

County officials have been working on preparing the Craig Center on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds as an isolation center. The county also is in talks with a local hotel to lease space for infected first responders.

Isolation centers, increased testing and diligence from the community have helped Rock County maintain its COVID-19 numbers to a rate that is manageable for health care facilities, Zupan said.

“This is going to be a community-wide effort,” Zupan said.

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