MONROE — Regular community testing for COVID-19 is now available in Monroe and other municipalities in Green County.
Drive-through testing is available by appointment 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays in Monroe and alternating Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in New Glarus or Brodhead.
The free testing began the same week as public schools in the area reported positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students, with some sending students home and switching to an online model for learning to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
Brodhead High School went fully virtual for two weeks starting Sept. 8 after a COVID-19 outbreak among students, according to a joint press release from the School District of Brodhead and Green County Public Health.
The outbreak was traced to a "large informal gathering" of at least 50 people, including many high school students, the weekend before classes began on Sept. 1, said RoAnn Warden, director of Green County Public Health.
At least 20 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases are associated with the party, including nine Green County residents who then attended school.
After contact tracing, the district sent home approximately 25 Brodhead students considered to be close contacts at school, according to Superintendent Leonard Lueck.
Monroe High School has reported one positive COVID-19 case. In a Sept. 10 email, Principal Chris Medenwaldt informed parents the infected student last attended school on Sept. 3 and public health contact tracers were working to identify anyone who had close contact with the student at or outside of school.
Monroe schools continue to operate on a hybrid system of in-person and online learning.
On Sept. 9, Albany schools announced a move to full virtual instruction until at least Sept. 18 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
"This is not a COVID-19 outbreak, and the staff member had little contact with students. No students have been linked to the contact tracing completed within the district," School District of Albany Superintendent William Trow wrote in a message to parents.
The public health department is reminding parents, students and community members to take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and "in order to maintain in-person instruction" in schools.
These precautions include limiting non-essential trips into the community, staying home when sick, frequently washing hands and wearing a face covering "whenever you are indoors or in an enclosed space, other than a private residence, and other people not from your household are present in the same room."
As of Sept. 10, 325 Green County residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Active cases are back up, to 47, after a rash of new cases were identified over the Labor Day weekend.
This week Warden also confirmed Green County's second COVID-19 death.
"I am saddened to report that a second Green County resident has died due to complications from COVID-19 on Aug. 26," she wrote in an email to the Times. The person was in their 70s, had multiple co-morbidities and had been hospitalized for several weeks.
So far, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has reported 12 facility-wide public health investigations. These range from outbreaks among employees in workplaces to cases traced to a birthday party.
A recent outbreak reported at Monroe Truck Equipment has seven known Green County cases associated with it. Cases are tracked by county of residence.
A COVID-19 outbreak investigation in any setting involves the same basic public health principles, according to Green County Public Health: detection of cases, isolation of the ill, contact tracing, quarantine of cases and close contacts, laboratory testing and infection control measures to prevent additional transmission.
Warden cautioned that "COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, meaning people who are not experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath."
How to get tested
Green County Public Health has set up regular testing in Monroe at the Monroe National Guard Armory, 1130 30th St., in Brodhead at the former Brodhead Fitness Center, 804 23rd St., and in New Glarus at the Swiss Center of North America, 507 Durst Rd.
The first test day in Brodhead will be Sept. 14 and in New Glarus on Sept. 21.
In the chilly rain midday Sept. 10, the second day of the operation in Monroe, no cars were lined up at the testing site.
"The weather's been a little bit of a challenge," Warden said. The day before, 40 people came to get tested. She prepared for 140.
Testing is available for anyone age 5 and older, although minors must be accompanied by a guardian to get tested.
Signing up is a two-step process and fully virtual. First, go to gcpublichealth.org and click on the red link at the top of the page to register with COVID Connect, a mobile and desktop app, and answer screening questions. Second, select a time slot for a test. Registering generates a QR code that can be printed at home to show at the testing site or presented to public health staff on a smartphone or other device.
"We have an iPhone that scans the QR code, then we confirm we've got the right person. Then they are swabbed," Warden said. The nasal swab specimen is then sent off to a lab in packaging that also has a corresponding QR code on it.
If a person tests negative, results come via email. If positive, the person will be notified by a public health nurse.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms — including fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, fatigue and body or muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea — should get tested, as should anyone considered to be a close contact to someone who's already tested positive.
For those without symptoms but with known exposure to COVID-19, Warden suggests waiting, in quarantine, for three to five days after close contact before getting tested.
"If they come too soon, they may not have enough of the viral load to be detected," she said.
The state Department of Health Services is also encouraging residents to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible and by the end of October. The website vaccinefinder.org has a search function to find the nearest place to get vaccinated.
"Annual flu vaccines are always important, but reducing illness and hospitalizations from flu is critical this year to protect our frontline healthcare workers and hospital systems who will continue to care for people with COVID-19," according to a Sept. 9 DHS release.
Warden is working on local efforts to offer the flu vaccine to Green County residents.
"We want to encourage everyone to get their annual flu shot as soon as they can. ... We will be working with area school districts to offer flu vaccines free to children this year," she said.