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Public Health Madison & Dane County invest in ‘contact tracing’ efforts to mitigate COVID-19

Public Health Madison & Dane County invest in ‘contact tracing’ efforts to mitigate COVID-19

As Wisconsin rolls from one “safer at home” order into the next, Public Health Madison & Dane County urge people to continue practicing social distancing to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The local public health agency is also investing in “contact tracing” — a method of tracking down sick people and those they have potentially exposed to the virus — efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes. 

On April 16, Gov. Tony Evers extended the closure of nonessential businesses from April 24 to May 26 while loosening some restrictions from the original order. The local public health department said mass closures are working, but “we are not out of the woods yet.” 

“People must assume any time they leave home that they will be exposed to COVID-19 and should be monitoring themselves for symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat,” Public Health Madison & Dane County spokeswoman Sarah Mattes said in an email Friday. 

Increasing the capability of Public Health Madison & Dane County to conduct contact tracing is an important component to slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

Mattes said about 30 staff members are working with individuals who have tested positive for the disease and following up with their contacts. Last week, the department hired additional public health staff and retired public health nurses to join the effort.

Mattes said the governor’s extended order gives Public Health time to invest in contact tracing infrastructure. 

“A robust contact-tracing infrastructure quickly isolates people confirmed to have COVID-19 and ensures follow-up with anyone who had close contact with them so they can be quarantined and tested,” Mattes said. “Investing in contact tracing is essential for when we eventually lift population-level interventions, like the Safer at Home order.” 

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Despite consistent messaging from the governor’s office and local public health departments to minimize contact with others, about 70 people protested around the Wisconsin State Capitol building in downtown Madison Sunday. Demonstrators called for the governor to lift restrictions and re-open businesses.

The Madison protest followed a larger protest of about 1,000 people that occured in Brookfield, Wisconsin on Saturday. A larger protest in the state’s capital city is scheduled for April 24.  

As the pandemic continues to spread throughout the state and across the nation and world, limits on social interactions may be necessary until there is a vaccine. Also, orders in Dane County likely will not be lifted all at once but rolled back in steps. 


UW-Madison has placed signs across campus in places like the Memorial Union Terrace, pictured above, to remind students and the public to avoid large gathering locations. 

People staying at home is the “most effective tool” against the spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine, widespread testing or a cure, Mattes said. 

[Gov. Tony Evers’ extension of ‘safer at home’ order through May eases some restrictions]

“Physical distancing measures in some form will need to remain in place until we are consistently seeing fewer cases each day, robust contact tracing is in place, and health infrastructure and testing capabilities have been scaled up,” Mattes said. 

COVID-19 has killed 20 people in Dane County and infected 365 as of Monday morning. Across the state, 220 have died from the disease and 4,346 have been infected by it. 

Over the week of April 10 to April 16, Public Health Madison & Dane County saw a 10% increase in cases from 325 to 357, according to a weekly data snapshot. In the same time frame, the public health agency conducted a total of 1,101 tests — an average of 157 per day.   

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