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Wisconsin investigating more possible cases of COVID-19 coronavirus; state has clearance to test
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Wisconsin investigating more possible cases of COVID-19 coronavirus; state has clearance to test

COVID-19 coronavirus sick person in Washington, AP photo

A staff member blocks the view as a person is taken by stretcher to a waiting ambulance from a nursing facility where more than 50 people are sick and being tested for the COVID-19 virus in Kirkland, Wash.

Wisconsin public health officials are investigating two more people who may have been sickened by the new coronavirus as the number of cases — and deaths — in other states continues to climb.

Officials also announced Monday that the State Lab of Hygiene in Madison and the Milwaukee Health Department have been authorized to administer a coronavirus test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That should mean faster results as the state shifts from a strategy of containment to identifying and controlling the spread within the community, said state health officer Jeanne Ayers.

“The risk to the public remains low in Wisconsin,” Ayers said. “(But) it’s especially important we have this lab capacity.”

As of Monday, officials said Wisconsin has had one confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Eighteen people have tested negative for the virus and two cases remain under investigation.

Assistant State Lab director Allen Bateman said the state has the capacity to test “hundreds” of patients, and private-sector tests under development could be available in the coming weeks.

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But health officials said CDC criteria limit testing to those who have had contact with a known COVID-19 patient and show signs of fever or respiratory illness, those who have recently traveled to affected areas and have both fever and respiratory illness, and those with fever and pneumonia-like symptoms with no other diagnosis.

“Not everybody who requests testing will have testing approved,” said Tom Haupt, respiratory epidemiologist for the Department of Health.

Haupt said the state does not have information on the number of requests for testing that have been denied. The CDC on Monday dropped from its website the tally of tests administered nationwide.

A Dane County resident diagnosed with the state’s first case of coronavirus after returning from Beijing on Jan. 30 has since recovered and been released from isolation, officials announced last week. Haupt said the state is not aware of any people who had traveled with the Wisconsin coronavirus patient and who subsequently tested positive for the virus, and could not say how many of them had been tested.

According to state officials, the risk of contracting the virus in public is low, even for those who have been in confined spaces with people who are sick. According to the CDC, the risk is limited to those sitting within six feet — or about two airline seats — of an infected person.

Ayers said Wisconsin has not made any efforts to acquire housing for potential quarantines, but will need support from employers to allow people to work from home if need be.

UW-Madison officials announced Saturday that in response to the virus outbreak overseas they have recalled 170 students studying in Italy, in accordance with the university’s international travel policy. The university and several other UW system campuses previously suspended exchange programs in South Korea and China.

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