As virus spreads, officials struggle to track it

With number of confirmed cases increasing, critical job of keeping tabs on Covid-19 spread grows complex
Ozaukee Press staff

Covid-19 continues its spread through Ozaukee County with 45 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, and health officials said this week they are struggling to track the virus —  a critical step in limiting infections now linked to five deaths in the county.

Two of the deaths were reported over the weekend, including a 92-year-old woman living at Village Pointe Commons in Grafton, and there are outbreaks in four senior living facilities in the county, Washington Ozaukee Health Officer Kirsten Johnson said.

The names of these facilities have not been released, but they include Village Pointe Commons, where at least 13 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and four people in the memory care unit have died, and Harbor Campus in Port Washington, which has one case.

An outbreak is defined as one resident who tests positive or two employees who test positive.

Johnson said the 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Ozaukee County reach every community except Belgium and include people of all ages, from their 20s to their 90s, adding that a number of the patients are very ill and in the intensive care units of local hospitals.

She cautioned that even though no one from Belgium has tested positive for Covid-19, that doesn’t mean the virus hasn’t infected anyone there — just that no one with the virus has been tested yet.

“It’s everywhere,” Johnson said. “We know that.”

Tracking Covid-19 is essential so officials can try to limit exposure to the virus, but it isn’t easy, Johnson said. 

“It’s been a challenge,” she said. “It’s been really difficult.”

That’s due in part to the fact that if a caregiver at an Ozaukee County facility lives in Milwaukee and tests positive, that information isn’t necessarily sent to the health department, Johnson said. 

This past weekend, she said, two people who live in Milwaukee and work for a home care agency tested positive. 

“If she (the agency owner) hadn’t called us, we would never have known,” Johnson said.

Similarly, the department wasn’t always immediately notified after someone died of coronavirus, she said, noting that officials only learned of one recent death after calling to check on a patient with the coronavirus.

However, officials on Tuesday worked out a system to ensure deaths are reported to the department in a timely manner, Johnson said.

“This is all new to everyone,” she said. “We’re trying to think of the big picture.”

Although many of those who have tested positive for the virus are living in care facilities, Johnson stressed that the coronavirus has reached outside these facilities.

The number reflects the fact that the department has conducted targeted testing at facilities where the virus has been detected, she said.

In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus at Harbor Campus in Port, where one person tested positive for Covid-19, Executive Director Carla Kostecki said 15 staff members volunteered to remain at the campus around the clock for two weeks, living and working with the residents, who have been confined to their rooms.

“We came in on March 23 and we’ve been here ever since,” Kostecki said, noting that the response to the coronavirus has been unprecedented.

“I’ve been in nursing for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

Instead of the normal three shifts, the staff members are working 12-hour shifts with an hour break, she said.

In addition to their normal duties, the staff members have been creative in finding ways to care for residents and keep them occupied and connected, Kostecki said, including one employee, who she said has “a phenomenal voice,” who is singing in the hallways twice a week.  

In response to the outbreaks at care facilities, Johnson has issued an order requiring staff members to use personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks at all times and to quarantine residents in their rooms.

Noting that the spread of Covid-19 has been linked to caregiver interaction, Johnson has also ordered staffing agencies, hospice and any other organizations that provide essential services to long-term care facilities to assign staff to only one facility. 

She has also issued an order requiring EMS and first responders to wear personal protective equipment to all calls and required medical transports such as dialysis drivers to wear similar equipment and deep clean their vehicles daily.

Personal protective equipment is still an issue for many facilities, and Johnson said that the health department on Tuesday distributed 15,000 surgical masks to long-term care facilities in the area.

The masks, which had been in the department’s inventory since the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009, should meet the needs of these facilities for the next week, Johnson said. The department will review the situation next week and distribute more masks if necessary.

A number of area businesses, including Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp. in Port Washington and Rebel Converting in Saukville, have also turned their eye to producing masks.

As activities and events are canceled across the board, the libraries in Port Washington and Saukville have announced that their public Wi-Fi signal is available and can be accessed from the parking lots and lawns around the buildings.

The curbside Wi-Fi is accessible in Port during the library’s normal hours. Patrons should look for the network PT-Library-WiFi and use the password Sunshine.



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Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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