Testing key to reopening but county lacks kits

Official says that although state recommends anyone with symptoms be tested, local residents can’t always get screened

HEALTH CARE WORKERS, family and friends cheered as they surrounded Tom Sheffield Tuesday when the 64-year-old Cedarburg resident was discharged from Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee in Mequon after battling Covid-19 for 30 days. It was an extra special day for Sheffield and his wife Mary (right), who on Tuesday also celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in a private ceremony at the hospital. Sheffield was one of the first Covid-19 patients at the hospital and had been at the hospital longer than any other coronavirus patient, a hospital spokesman said. At times during his stay, he was so seriously ill that staff members “didn’t think he would survive,” Molly Kast, the intensive care unit nurse manager, said. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee Press staff

A public health official who on Friday briefed the Ozaukee County Board on a plan to reopen the county as the Covid-19 pandemic eases said the key is expanded testing — something the county doesn’t have the capacity to do right now.

Public Health Officer Kirsten Johnson and county officials also gave insight into the status of the coronavirus in Ozaukee County. 

Johnson told the County Board that as of Friday, the county was in day 12 of declining Covid-19 numbers.

However, a look at the public health department’s website shows that the number of county residents who have tested positive for the virus is at 86. Friday, that number was 81.  

Supr. Justin Strom said those numbers aren’t useful, noting he and his wife were diagnosed by their physician with Covid-19 but never tested. Now, they have asked to be tested for the Covid-19 antibodies, but have been told they are ineligible because they were not initially tested for the disease.

“When I read these numbers, they’re really kind of meaningless,” Strom said, noting they don’t take into account people like he and his wife.

Ozaukee and Washington counties have a total of 34 ventilators available for use, Johnson told the board, noting that 24 of those were in use a couple weeks earlier.

Only eight of those machines were being used for Ozaukee County patients, she said, noting that many of the health care systems are using the county’s hospitals as overflow for patients from Milwaukee County.

“When we look at those hospitals, it’s not necessarily reflective of what’s happening in Ozaukee County,” Johnson said, noting only one county resident was hospitalized for Covid-19 Friday.

The plan to reopen, developed over two weeks, offers a blueprint for reopening the county and falls within the parameters of the state’s Badger Bounce Back Plan and the federal government, County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said.

“We don’t intend to defy any state or legislative order in order to reopen Ozaukee County,” he told the 24 supervisors attending the virtual meeting. 

“The plan seems very reasonable,” Supr. Alice Reed said. “I’d like to commend her (Johnson) for being ahead of the curve.”

Much of the meeting was taken up with questions, most of them regarding testing.

Testing, Johnson said, “is key. Testing is our number one priority.”

It’s also the county’s biggest challenge, she said, especially since the state is now saying that everyone who is symptomatic should be able to get tested.

“As of this morning, we’ve already gotten calls about people who are symptomatic and can’t get a test,” she said.

Testing is also key to contact tracing, something the department has been successful in using to stop outbreaks, such as the one that hit Village Pointe Commons in Grafton, Johnson said.

“We were literally able to stop it because of our in-depth contact tracing and the partnership with Village Pointe Commons,” she said.

Supr. Kathy Geracie asked why the county hasn’t increased its testing more quickly, and Johnson noted that there have been shortages in the swabs needed to take samples and the reagents used in labs to do the actual tests, as well as time for labs to get the results.

“All three of those are not consistent  throughout the state and our county,” she said, noting she is planning to meet with the county’s hospital systems to increase testing.

Johnson noted that the state told hospital systems on April 22 that they could order testing materials, adding, “I don’t know what that looks like in reality.”

Testing is essential to understand whether enough people have contracted the disease and recovered to create herd immunity, Johnson said.

“One of our biggest challenges is understanding where we are in terms of herd immunity,” she said.

Supr. Ron Holyoke asked how many county residents have recovered from Covid-19, something Johnson said it difficult to determine.

Some people continue to have symptoms weeks after contracting the disease, she said, adding, “It’s hard to know how many people have recovered.”

Several supervisors asked about reopening the county, especially in light of the decision by Hartford Mayor Tim Michalak to allow businesses there to reopen.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” Johnson said, adding she fears a spike in cases in Harford in the coming weeks. “We are not in a place in either of our counties where I am comfortable with that.”

The best idea is to reopen slowly, she said, which will not only allow the county to catch any outbreaks early and respond but also will prevent the health care system from being overrun with cases.

“The last thing we want to do is close things down again,” she said.

“I don’t think we can go through this again, especially with the economic burden that’s already been placed on small businesses,” Supr. Bruce Ross said.

Supr. Tom Grabow asked whether businesses should consider testing customers’ temperatures, something Johnson said she does not believe is necessary.

While temperature was initially thought to be an indicator of Covid-19, fewer than 30% of hospital admissions had a fever, she said.

“I don’t think it’s worth the time,” Johnson said.

What is recommended, she said, is keeping a log of people who enter shops. That would help with contact tracing if it’s needed.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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