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'Community spread’ of COVID-19 in Dane County confirmed

'Community spread’ of COVID-19 in Dane County confirmed

Public Health Madison & Dane County announced Tuesday there are more cases of the novel coronavirus in Dane County that have spread without a known source, which indicates there is community spread of the disease locally.

Community spread means that some patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Dane County did not contract it from being in contact with an infected person or by traveling from an area with a high number of cases. 

“We have reached the level where community spread of COVID-19 is happening,” Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a statement. 

To date, 19 people in Dane County have been diagnosed with COVID-19, though one has since recovered. No one with the disease is hospitalized at this time. All people diagnosed with COVID-19 will remain in their homes until the public health department allows them to return to normal activities. 

Across Wisconsin, 47 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.  

“We expect the number of people with COVID-19 to continue to rise in Dane County,” Heinrich said. 

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers banned gatherings of more than 50 people in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19 across the state. Evers’ orders followed Dane County leaders issuing a similar call limiting groups of people and restricting bars and restaurants to 50% of their capacities, while schools were ordered to close immediately. 

“It’s possible these orders will need to be amended to be more restrictive as the situation evolves,” Heinrich said.  

Community spread reinforces the urgent need for people to restrict movement in the community and stay at home and distance themselves from others as much as possible. 

“Given this level of spread, we are directing community members to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible,” Heinrich said. “People should also continue everyday prevention strategies like washing hands frequently.”

In an interview with the Cap Times last week, UW-Madison epidemiologist Malia Jones said social distancing, or “cocooning," would require community cooperation and could be key to avoid overburdening the health care system with too many critical cases at once.

“If everybody stays home, and the people who are already infected don't give it to each other, don't give it to any new people for the two weeks, then we've put a real dent in the exponential growth rate of new cases, and we can kind of get a handle on what we already have, before we start retransmitting it through the population again,” she said.

At the state level, health officials said Monday they had heard from people who had contracted the virus but didn’t have a travel history or exposure to a previously known case, indicating for the first time the illness was “likely” spreading in Wisconsin communities. 

While Dr. Ryan Westergaard, DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases chief medical officer, noted the data collection for the new cases hadn’t been fully completed, it’s “sufficient for us to say they’re not travel-associated and likely reflect person-to-person spread inside Wisconsin.” 

Still, he added he doesn’t think the virus is in all of the state’s communities, though he cautioned it could be going forward if the trajectory continues.

Briana Reilly contributed to the report. 

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