LaCrosse County initiates tracking as COVID-19 cases rise
July 1, 2020
Wisconsin isn’t one of the worst COVID-19 “hot spots” in the U.S. However, certain parts of the state are quickly racking up new cases of Big Rona. The LaCrosse County Health Department (LCHD) is trying its best to stop the spread and has begun publishing warnings about local places where those testing positive have spent time. The LCHD is hoping that by tracking cases and informing the public the virus won’t spread.
The LCHD has officially said that the spread of the virus is “severe,” according to the LaCrosse Tribune (“LaCrosse County confirms 20 new COVID-19 cases,” by Olivia Herken, Jun 18, 2020).
“We are not heading in the right direction,” LCHD Director Jen Rombalski told the Tribune. She cited the increase in mid-June as having gone up 607 percent. “Right now, the biggest chance of COVID-19 spread is very wide. That net has gotten very large.”
The rapid rise is what changed county recommendations. The LCHD urges citizens to stay home, to wear masks at all times in public, not to travel for leisure, and not to gather with anyone outside their immediate households. The department advises not visiting hair salons or masseuses. It also recommended the closure of downtown LaCrosse restaurants and barseven though bars and restaurants were deemed essential and have stayed open.
The LaCrosse Tribune reported that the spike in area cases has been connected to almost 100 young adults (“‘They don’t care if you get sick,’” by Olivia Herken, Jun 21, 2020). The story reported how restaurant and bar staff workers feel that patrons, especially young ones, don’t take safety measures seriously. In mid-June, those under age 30 had contracted more than half the county’s cases.
To counteract the spread, LCHD uses social media such as Facebook to alert citizens to spots where individuals testing positive for COVID-19 spent time. This included six bars and one beach. Once warned, citizens who have possibly been exposed are asked to fill out an online form detailing where and when they were at the exposure spot, and including information about who they have been in contact with since. The department uses this information for tracking purposes. After posting about the bars and beach in mid-June, 537 people filled out online forms.
Jess Witkins, a LaCrosse County resident in her thirties, says she hasn’t seen many changes in behavior. “People are aware of the situation, but the responses to it remain fairly divided… Those who were practicing social distancing and mask-wearing are continuing to do so and those who choose not to…feel comfortable re-entering businesses like retail stores and restaurants.”
Witkins pointed out that there’s a high level of anxiety among citizens. This is especially true for those with young families who may be trying to cope with working from home while caring for children. Not participating in usual summertime activities makes this even harder.
“There’s a level of panic and grief surrounding the transitions we all must make,” Witkins explained. She noted that, among her friends, emotions run the gamut. Some have been able to make special family memories together, while others have lost jobs and have been forced to move in with parents.
Witkins said her friends do pay attention to the LCHD postings on social media, and the ranking system to tell whether or not they should get tested.
However, she pointed out that the community has been discussing what power the LCHD might have in tagging businesses with public health notices. She noted that the health department has made every effort to be transparent, whether it’s posting warnings on social media or placing signs explaining the dangers of using equipment in public parks.
“Unfortunately, every day…I’m still seeing public parks full of families sharing jungle gyms,” she said. “The skate park is full of teens, and our trail parking lots are packed.” She said that only about half the people wear masks in grocery stores, despite the rapid increase in area cases.
“What’s happening in LaCrosse County is a wave of new cases, mostly stemming from bars and restaurants,” she added. “As soon as our state reopened, people flooded area bars and pubs.
“What that tells me is that we are facing a drastic mental health issue as much as a physical health issue.”