Mercyhealth officials are waiting on results from Rock County patients tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, a health system official said Thursday.
Health officials believe it is a matter of when, not if, Rock County will see patients test positive for COVID-19.
Mark Goelzer, medical director for Mercyhealth, said tests for Rock County patients have been sent to the state hygiene lab, and results should come back in the next day or two.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, body aches, cough and breathing difficulty. Officials advise people experiencing symptoms to call a health care provider.
Southern Wisconsin remains at low risk of the disease because there are fewer international travelers coming in and out of the area compared to other metropolitan areas, Goelzer said.
However, that could change quickly if people carrying the coronavirus do not quarantine themselves or are not aware of the symptoms, he said.
The Rock County Public Health Department is not mandating any closures or precautions at this time but recommends people avoid traveling or crowded events and places, especially if they are older than 60 or have a condition that weakens their immune system, said Nick Zupan, a health department epidemiologist.
Goelzer said he is concerned people might avoid seeing a doctor because they think they can’t miss work or can’t afford a trip to the doctor.
Health officials encourage people to call health care facilities before visiting so staff can take proper precautions.
Hospital charity assistance programs could be available to help people pay for medical services, Goelzer said.
Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday morning declared a statewide public health emergency. The emergency allows the state health department to take all necessary measures to prevent and respond to incidences of COVID-19.
It also allows for state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation and quarantine, according to a news release.
The state health department Thursday announced two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dane County, bringing the statewide total to seven. Eighty-four people have tested negative across the state.
The two people who tested positive Thursday had contact with the person who tested positive in Dane County on Tuesday.
Wisconsin has not had any reported incidents of community spread, meaning the disease spreads from person to person without exposure to a confirmed case, said Elizabeth Goodsitt, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, in an email to The Gazette.
For example, if a person is confirmed to have COVID-19 and her spouse catches the disease, that is not considered community spread, said Brenda Klahn, infection preventionist at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Officials at the Rock County Public Health Department are preparing to share more information with the community, Zupan said.
Cases have been confirmed in Dane, Pierce, Fond du Lac and Waukesha counties. One patient in Dane County has recovered.
The best way Rock County residents can protect themselves is to self-quarantine at home for two weeks if they have traveled to areas where there is community spread or if they have been in contact with people who have traveled, Goelzer said.
Patients who have been tested for COVID-19 are asked to immediately quarantine themselves at home as they await results. Anyone who lives with the patient also should quarantine at home, Goelzer said.
Travelers likely will be asked by airport officials to self-quarantine for two weeks upon returning home, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms, said Marie-Noel Sandoval, Rock County public health officer.
Patients will be quarantined at home unless they need to be hospitalized. Respiratory distress or need for respiratory assistance are the most likely reasons for hospitalization, Goelzer said.
Reasons for hospitalization for COVID-19 are similar to reasons people are hospitalized for influenza, he said.
Hospitalized patients will be admitted into a special, sterilized room while awaiting testing, Goelzer said.
People older than 60 and those with existing health conditions are most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19, Klahn said.
Conditions that could make someone more vulnerable include diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease or other conditions that cause immune system suppression.
Those patients are more vulnerable because they have weakened immune systems, Klahn said.
She declined to say if St. Mary’s Hospital has tested any local patients for COVID-19.
Beloit Health System is limiting visitors to its hospital and clinics, according to a news release.
Visitors will be allowed to visit for one hour every 24 hours and must be free of flu-like symptoms. Exceptions will be made people visiting patietns who are dying, according to the release.
No visitors under the age of 15 will be allowed at the Beloit facilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week loosened restrictions for providers to test for COVID-19, prompting increased testing across the country, Goelzer said.
Providers hope commercial labs will be approved to test for COVID-19 in the next week because it would speed up results and increase availability, Goelzer said.
Patients at both of Janesville’s health systems are being asked questions about travel history upon arrival, officials said.
Those who have traveled to areas with community spread of COVID-19 or have been in contact with people who have traveled will be considered for testing, especially if they show symptoms of respiratory disease.
For additional stories and information, visit GazetteXtra.com/coronavirus.
This story will be updated.
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