MONROE — Six people in Green County are now confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, but officials believe the disease is much more widespread in the county.
"This is not a New York problem or a Chicago problem or even a Madison problem," said Mike Sanders, the former president and CEO of Monroe Clinic.
Sanders is volunteering as the public information officer for the newly activated Green County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a group of local leaders with representation from county government, county agencies, local police, fire departments, the sheriff's office and Monroe Clinic. It is chaired by Green County Emergency Management Director Tanna McKeon.
The EOC is "mostly deactivated unless a crisis exists," Sanders said. The group has been meeting three times weekly at the Green County Pleasant View Complex since Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency for Wisconsin due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12.
On March 30, Evers announced a new public-private partnership to increase laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19 and "ensure Wisconsin does not have a backlog of COVID-19 tests." The partnership brings on lab support from Exact Sciences, Promega, UW Health and Marshfield Clinic Health System.
Labs have been completing 1,500 to 2,000 tests per day, according to the governor's office. The new partnership is expected to double that initially and then continue to expand as additional platforms and supplies become available.
"We are headed into the worst of this, and our need is only going to get greater," Evers said in a press conference March 30.
The lack of widespread testing due to a shortage of tests is "a national frustration," Sanders said. In a response to the shortage, the Centers for Disease Control announced guidelines earlier in March that prioritize testing of hospitalized patients and healthcare workers with the symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Laura Lippold, spokesperson for Monroe Clinic, said that due to the high demand and short supply of available test kits, the hospital is continuing to use the CDC testing prioritization guidelines and that testing processes will continue to evolve as testing expands and new methods and locations become available.
Hospitals, including Monroe Clinic, are following the prioritization rules "in a spirit of collaboration across the country," Sanders said.
"If there was widespread testing," which he said thus far has been impossible, "it would be easier for communities to put their finger on what's going on."
For now, "people should assume if they're out and they're not following the current guidelines, they're going to be exposed," Sanders said. Health officials say to stay at home, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently and thoroughly.
The first person to test positive for COVID-19 in Green County was reported March 20. The second case was reported March 26. As of March 30, local officials reported six people had tested positive.
According to Wisconsin Department of Health data released March 30, Lafayette County still had no reported positive COVID-19 tests, Rock County had 15 and Dane County had 183 and one death. Statewide 1,221 people are confirmed to have COVID-19 and 14 people have died from the infection.
"If we all get it in two months, it's going to be devastating. If we all get it over the next 18 months, the health system will be able to deal with it more effectively. And that's why we have to look to the experts and follow their recommendations," Sanders said.
Testing began in the county on March 11, according to RoAnn Warden, director of Green County Public Health. She initially reported the total number of people getting tested but has since stopped because she considers the day-to-day data unreliable. Testing data is reported by labs via the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System.
A test result reported is based on where the person resides, not where they were tested, Warden said. So a Green County resident who gets tested at a Madison hospital, for example, would still get counted in Green County.
Green County officials including Warden, along with Monroe Clinic, are asking local businesses to donate or sell personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks, gloves and surgical gowns to prepare local first responders and healthcare workers for the "anticipated surge of residents who will require in-home care or hospitalization."
"What we have learned from the experience of other states is that it’s unlikely the stockpile of personal protective equipment available from the government will be enough to meet our needs in Green County," an announcement March 30 stated. "Collectively, we are reaching out to you, the members of our business community, to ask for your help in meeting this anticipated need."
On March 30, Lippold said Monroe Clinic's caregivers currently "have what they need to safely deliver care."
But, she added, PPE is "in high-demand nationwide and supplies are limited. Like other health systems across the country we are working to conserve supplies, as well as finding new supply sources for certain items. This is necessary to ensure we continue to have what we need in the days and weeks ahead."