State health officials announced Monday a second Wisconsin resident has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Pierce County Public Health Department said the Pierce County resident was exposed while traveling within the United States and is isolated at home, along with the person’s family.
Health officials in Pierce County, located just southeast of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, are working to identify people who have been in contact with the patient to isolate or quarantine them and test those exhibiting symptoms. Officials will hold a media briefing Tuesday.
Wisconsin’s first case of COVID-19, a Dane County resident, was released from isolation in late February after recovering and testing negative twice.
With testing capacity for the COVID-19 coronavirus expanding and cases increasing nationally, Wisconsin has stopped requiring doctors to get state approval to test patients in an attempt to more closely track the virus.
“Our goal is to be more aggressive in finding cases and being able to respond when and if they are present in Wisconsin,” DHS chief medical officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said Monday.
UW-Madison’s Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, which began testing for the virus last week, can handle about 100 specimens a day. A public health lab in Milwaukee is also conducting testing, and the national commercial labs Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp said they began testing Monday.
It’s not clear what the total capacity is to process Wisconsin samples, but health officials said the two public health labs in the state had no backlogs as of Monday.
If doctors determine people with respiratory symptoms and fever who have traveled to high-risk areas or been in close contact with infected patients should be tested, they can order tests, Westergaard said. Priority is given to older people and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or lung disease.
“Given the number of new cases in our region and nationally, we would not be surprised at all to find new cases in Wisconsin in the next week or two,” he said.
There is no charge to patients for tests at the two public health labs, state health officials said. The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance on Friday asked health insurers to waive out-of-pocket costs for lab tests and related medical care, including at emergency rooms.
Universities across the state are discouraging non-essential travel — just as students’ spring breaks are about to begin.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank “strongly advised” students and employees Monday to reconsider non-essential personal and business travel away from Dane County. The guidance comes a week before the start of the university’s spring break.
“You may face a higher risk of infection, significant delays returning to Madison and/or the requirement to self-isolate upon your return, all of which could significantly impact your professional and personal obligations at great individual expense,” she said.
UW-Madison also on Monday canceled and suspended all university-related travel to the following countries for the next 30 days: China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Spain. Blank said the number of countries will likely grow as the outbreak spreads.
The trip cancellations come in addition to the nearly 300 students whose study-abroad programs in China, South Korea and Italy were suspended in recent weeks. An estimate on the number of students and staff affected by all travel suspensions and cancellations was not immediately available Monday, officials said.
On Monday, organizers of the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival, scheduled to take place in Wausau in September, said the event will be delayed to 2022 because of “trade tensions (with China) and the coronavirus.”
Health officials are discussing potential public health risks at other events, including the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July, but it’s too early to take specific actions, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary for the state health department.
Groups organizing events that include more than 10 people should have contingency plans should the events need to be canceled if COVID-19 is shown to be spreading person to person in Wisconsin, Westergaard said.
Health officials have repeatedly said businesses should prepare for allowing employees to work from home, if possible, and parents should seek backup child care plans if schools need to close.
The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions on Monday said Wisconsin investors should be “wary of con artists seeking to capitalize on fear and uncertainty.”
Investors should be on the lookout for “scam artists trying to use the market downturn and the coronavirus to scare investors into so-called ‘safer’ or ‘guaranteed’ investments,” DFI Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld said in a statement.
State Journal reporter Kelly Meyerhofer contributed to this report.