A member of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team is dressed for rainy weather while helping with free COVID-19 testing Monday at Dawson Ball Fields in Janesville.

Data shows COVID-19 is spreading more quickly through Rock County at gatherings and parties than in schools, said the county’s epidemiologist.

The number of school-aged children, ages 4 to 17, who have tested positive for the coronavirus has soared since school reopened.

As of Tuesday, 192 school-aged children had been infected with the virus since Sept. 1, Zupan said.

That’s a 40% increase from the 137 school-aged kids who tested positive over five months from April to August, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

COVID-19 activity has been increasing in Rock County since the beginning of September, the same time schools reopened across the county.

Epidemiologist Nick Zupan said cases are not spreading widely through schools and classrooms, but rather kids are often contracting the virus outside of school and then exposing small numbers of classmates.

“I don’t know with schools being open if there is some kind of change in mentality in terms of people feeling more relaxed about getting together or being outside of the house,” Zupan said.

It is important to monitor the number of cases in school-aged children, Zupan said.

Research shows children have a higher potential for spreading the disease compared to adults because children carry larger viral loads in their nasal cavities, Zupan said.

That means children could easily spread it to people who are at higher risk of serious illness, such as seniors and people with other health conditions, Zupan said.

It is possible for children to become seriously ill from the virus, although it is less likely than in older age groups, Zupan said.

Data shows children in Rock County, so far, have been more likely to contract the virus at an event outside of school than in the classroom, Zupan said.

“I was surprised when looking at our data that so many people are reporting going to parties and gatherings,” Zupan said.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 have largely reported having gone to family get-togethers, weddings, parties, restaurants, bars and other places of gathering, Zupan said.

It is difficult to know exactly where cases are spreading because cases have overloaded the county’s contact tracing abilities and many people have not fully answered questions about their close contacts and whereabouts, Zupan said.

About 75% of people contacted by the health department have not fully answered questions about whereabouts, contacts and occupations, Zupan said.

Zupan was unsure if people are refusing to answer questions or if some questions are not being asked to save time.

Contact tracers have struggled to keep up. County officials in recent weeks have encouraged people who test positive to quickly reach out to everyone with whom they have recently been in close contact.

Several COVID-19 records have been shattered in the last week, including numbers of new cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

There are 976 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County, up 18 from Tuesday and up 356 from Oct. 1, according to health department data.

Sixty-one new cases were reported Wednesday, bringing the county’s all-time total to 3,538.

One new death was reported Wednesday for a total of 37 since March. The new death occurred Sunday, according to state data.

The county has not updated its hospitalization count since Monday, when hospitalizations hovered at 30, the highest they have ever been.

Of new cases reported Wednesday, 44% were positive.

Positivity rate—the percentage of tests that are positive—is used to show how much disease activity is in an area, Zupan said.

The county’s reported positivity rate is a per-person rate, meaning it shows only the first positive or first negative result received by an individual, Zupan said.

A positivity rate above 10% is “concerning,” Zupan said.

Zupan said it is important to look at all the different pieces of data available to get a good grip on how the disease is impacting a given region.