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A swab is placed into a bag as members of the Wisconsin National Guard help with COVID-19 testing at Krueger Park in Beloit. The site is one of two locations in Beloit that will host testing through Friday, May 22.

JANESVILLE

Rock County saw its largest day-to-day jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday with an increase of 41 cases.

That brings Rock County's total of confirmed cases to 493. Fourteen people have died. 

Health officials believed they would see an increase in positive cases as testing capabilities increased, said Kelsey Cordova, spokeswoman for the Rock County Public Health Department, in an email to The Gazette.

Two free public testing sites opened in Beloit last week and will continue through Friday.

As of Thursday, 1,800 tests were taken at the Beloit sites, according to a news release from the state Department of Military Affairs.

"We’ve known all along that the virus was present in our community in greater numbers than just those being tested, especially because so many people can be infected without symptoms," Cordova said.

"... So as we increased testing and more people took advantage of the community testing events in Beloit, we expected to see more positive cases."

The large increase in cases comes the same day as Rock County businesses were allowed to reopen with suggested safety guidelines. 

The county received 157 test results Thursday—41 positive and 116 negative. That means 26% of tests were positive.

One of the data benchmarks the county is using to guide its decisions on reopening is to have fewer than 5% of tests in Rock County come back positive over a 14-day period. 

Positive cases have made up more than 5% of the returned results each day this week, according to data from the health department.

Cordova said it is important to look at trends in data rather than single-day totals. 

"It’s far too early to say whether or not this high rate we see today will continue in the following days and weeks," Cordova said.

County officials stand by their decision to lift the safer-at-home order, Cordova said.

Many factors, including the local economy, needed to be considered when reopening, Cordova said.

"We would like to make it very clear that the virus is still here, and no less present or dangerous than it has been over the last few months," Cordova said. "We did not end the safer-at-home order because it’s safe out there now."

Health officials believe reopening the county will be safe as long as everyone takes social distancing and hygiene seriously, Cordova said.

Outbreaks at local facilities contribute to climbing case numbers and number of tests given, Cordova said.

A statewide database of facility-wide COVID-19 investigations show 14 local facilities are being investigated by the state, including nine long-term care facilities, four workplaces and one health care facility. 

The state Department of Health Services last week said it aims to test all workers and residents of nursing homes statewide for COVID-19 by the end of the month. 

Rock County is using the help of state contact tracers to take on the increasing load of cases, Cordova said.

The county is also looking to hire contact tracers to work 30 or more hours a week. People with nursing experience are preferred because they are used to talking to patients about their health, Cordova said.

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