With community spread of COVID-19 coronavirus becoming more likely around the United States, including in Wisconsin, state health officials on Friday said residents should prepare, including stocking up on food and water.
“What people should start thinking about now is: ‘What is your household plan of action?’” said Traci DeSalvo, communicable diseases epidemiology section chief for the state Department of Health Services.
Households should have a two-week supply of food and water available in case people develop symptoms and need to stay home, DeSalvo said. Families should also have at least a month supply of medications and medical supplies, and parents should consider backup plans for child care if schools close, such as whether they can work from home, she said.
A stockpile of nonperishable food and water is part of general recommendations for natural disasters and other emergencies, DeSalvo said.
Washington state appears to have some community spread of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China in December, but Wisconsin is not known to have such transmission, state health officials said.
Of 44 people in Wisconsin tested since the outbreak began, 31 have been negative and results for 12 were pending as of Friday. One person has been positive, a Dane County resident who returned from Beijing Jan. 30 and promptly began isolation at home after being tested at UW Hospital. The person was released from isolation last week after recovering and being negative on two consecutive tests.
The Wisconsin Laboratory of Hygiene at UW-Madison started testing for the virus Monday and can test about 100 samples a day, said Dr. Allen Bateman, assistant director of the lab’s communicable disease division. Previously, samples had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
For now, the state health department must authorize testing for people who might need it, Bateman said. There is no charge to patients for the tests, and the cost of related medical care for those without insurance may be covered through assistance from local health departments, DeSalvo said.
There is no shortage of testing materials or any backlog on tests, Bateman said. A public health lab in Milwaukee is also conducting testing.
“We expect within the coming weeks to months, many other labs in Wisconsin will be able to test,” Bateman said.
With the CDC this week expanding criteria for who should be tested, the number of people in Wisconsin under investigation for COVID-19 is likely to grow in coming days, said Andrea Palm, state health department secretary. The state will eventually stop daily postings of the number of pending cases and just say how many people are positive or negative.
About $10 million of an initial $600 million authorized nationally to expand capacity to respond to COVID-19 at health departments should be coming to Wisconsin soon, Palm said. A bill signed by President Donald Trump Friday, increasing the total to more than $8 billion, will eventually bring more resources to the state, she said.
“One of the top items on our list are resources to ensure that we have the staff at the local and at the state level” to trace close contacts of infected people and boost lab testing, Palm said.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to affect students studying abroad.
On Thursday, UW-Madison suspended a spring break program in Germany and summer programs in China, Italy and South Korea. These suspensions affect 95 students, bringing the total of UW-Madison students impacted by suspensions of programs abroad to about 275.
State Journal reporter Kelly Meyerhofer contributed to this report.
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