MONROE — Parties and other large gatherings are contributing to the dramatic uptick in confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the first week of August.
As of Aug. 10, Green County reported 42 active cases of COVID-19, with two hospitalized. Lafayette County reported 41 active cases.
Both counties had more new cases in the first nine days of August than in all of July.
“We’ve had groups of people gathering, and that’s where we’re seeing people test positive. That’s why we’re strongly encouraging people to limit their contacts to 10 or less and ideally just those in their household,” said Green County Public Health Director RoAnn Warden.
The positive cases are based on the same “gold standard” diagnostic lab test that public health departments have relied on since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
The labs are testing samples collected in two ways: a long nasopharyngeal swab that goes far up the nose, almost to the back of the throat, or a shorter swab that only goes up about an inch into the nose.
However the samples are collected, the tests are reliable, Warden said.
False positives are “not something we’re seeing.”
The longer — yet more uncomfortable — nasopharyngeal swab tends to get the “best specimen,” she said. Use of the shorter swab runs the risk of collecting an inadequate sample, which could lead to a false negative.
Overall testing is up. Warden said this is partly due to regular testing at nursing homes and partly due to large numbers of people who attended the same parties or gatherings getting tested.
The percent of people testing positive over the previous two weeks was about 7.2% in Green County as of Aug. 9. It had been down to 1% just a few weeks ago.
Numerous bars in the area have temporarily closed or made cautionary announcements after learning of customers who tested positive for COVID-19, including The Dam in Belleville and The Spot in Darlington.
A post on The Spot’s Facebook page indicated that “there are positive cases of Covid” among people who participated in a poker ride the bar hosted Aug. 1. The post urged anyone with symptoms to get tested and to self-isolate or quarantine as needed but that “we clean our bar every day and wipe down all surfaces regularly so please do not be worried if you have been inside recently.”
Epidemiologists are learning that the new coronavirus spreads fastest indoors, through respiratory droplets in the air, hence the common advice to stay outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.
Dan Smits, chief of the Monroe Fire Department and part of the COVID-19 response at the city and county level, encourages wearing masks. Starting Aug. 1, Gov. Tony Evers mandated masks indoors and when in close contact with others except for household members.
Wearing a mask “will reduce your chances dramatically” of catching COVID-19, Smits said. “It is key that people wear their masks as much as possible when they’re around other people, especially for long periods of time.”
Monroe first responders have done “very very well” with mask-wearing, Smits said, and he credits it for keeping them safe and healthy.
(This story was updated from the print version with the latest data.)