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Dr. Preyanshu Parekh, left, and medical assistant Lindsay McCann speak with a person with possible COVID-19 symptoms during a drive-through screening outside SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Janesville.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped in Rock County, but health officials say the community should not let its guard down.

The number of patients hospitalized in Rock County hovered between 15 and 27—the local peak—from May 5 to June 2, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

From June 2 to 11, hospitalizations varied between 13 and 14, according to the data.

Since June 11, the number of hospitalized patients has decreased steadily. The lowest recorded number—four—was reported June 18 and 19.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the most recent data showed five people were hospitalized with the disease.

The numbers reflect all hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the county’s four hospital systems—Mercyhealth, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, Edgerton Hospital and Health Services, and Beloit Health System.

Local health officials were quick to warn that the novel coronavirus is still circulating through the community.

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The state Department of Health Services launched an online dashboard Wednesday characterizing the COVID-19 activity level by county.

Rock County has a high activity level of COVID-19 based on its case rate and trajectory of cases over the last two weeks.

Rock County’s case rate is 57 per 100,000 people. The county has seen a 14% case change in the last two weeks, which the state considers “growing.”

Officials agree the drop in hospitalizations can’t be attributed to one cause.

Mark Goelzer, medical director at Mercyhealth, said a recent aggressive effort to test all residents and workers at every nursing home is likely a factor.

More testing allows for better isolation of those who are sick, which prevents spread, Goelzer said.

People who live in nursing homes or other residential care facilities are often at higher risk for becoming seriously ill and ending up in the hospital, Goelzer said.

The Rock County Public Health Department has focused on protecting the most vulnerable residents in its phased reopening plans, said Kelsey Cordova, a health department spokeswoman.

Phase two of the county’s reopening plan recommends that long-term care facilities prohibit visitors, private gatherings be fewer than 25 people, public gatherings be fewer than 50 people and senior centers remain closed.

“We hope by focusing on our most vulnerable and doing so in reopening guidelines, we are able to keep the most vulnerable and at-risk out of the hospital,” Cordova said.

Health officials across the country are seeing more young people who are sick, likely because of lifestyle choices such as going to bars and gathering in large groups, Goelzer said.

While young people face less risk for serious illness, it is not impossible for a young person to be hospitalized, Goelzer said.

Rock County is moving in a better direction, but that will continue only if people keep social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and taking other safety precautions recommended by health experts, said Brenda Klahn, infection specialist for St. Mary’s.

She said local hospitals now have more personal protective equipment and better treatment plans for people with the virus.

Decreasing hospitalizations was the health department’s main goal because it prevents local health care systems from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Cordova said.

“When numbers go down, that does mean improvement but does not mean that it (the virus) is gone,” Klahn said.

Rock County is in good shape compared to other communities. That could change if people stop taking precautions, Goelzer said.

“It means what we’re doing is working, and we have to keep at that,” Cordova said.

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