The number of positive coronavirus cases in residents of Vilas and Oneida counties continues to rise, though there have been no deaths tied to the illness, according to health officials.

According to figures from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, there have been 17 positive cases in Vilas County and 32 in Oneida County. There also have been 1,419 negative test results in Vilas and 3,463 negative test results in Oneida.

There has been some concern that Vilas and Oneida counties could see a spike in the number of positive cases following the Fourth of July holiday when tourists arrived in the North Woods.

Tammi Boers, assistant director/deputy health officer for the Vilas County Public Health Department, explained how cases are counted in the county.

“When it comes to visitors in the county, if they are seasonal residents and test positive for COVID, they are considered a Vilas County case. If someone is from another area and here for a short vacation, like a week, they show up as their county of residence case,” said Boers.  

“Overall, I think our geography helps because we are spread out; our houses aren’t close together like the suburbs or cities,” said Boers. “We also have less congregate worksites and overall, we feel our businesses are doing a good job.”  



Tracing efforts

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow throughout the state, the Oneida County Health Department is proactively looking to partner with local businesses to assist with contact tracing efforts.

The health department is asking businesses like bars and restaurants, where patrons may have prolonged exposure to employees and one another, to collect at least one name and phone number per customer party as a way of helping identify individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, should a case be diagnosed.

“Our chambers have strong relationships with our county businesses, and are able to get this process started quickly,” said Linda Conlon, Oneida County Health Department director/health officer. “We know our business owners want to keep the community safe, so we look forward to working together to help fight this virus and keep our local economy strong.”

Chamber offices will assist businesses to implement the contact tracing requests, but businesses are also welcome to contact the health department with any questions or to discuss ways to make their business lower risk for transmission.

“This one small effort by businesses helps us immensely,” said Conlon. “The more easily we can get into contact with people who may have been exposed, the faster we can shut down the spread from that encounter. In the long run, it not only protects our residents and visitors, but also the economy here in the North Woods, because our businesses can continue to operate successfully.”

The Oneida County Health Department has also launched a dedicated COVID-19 webpage to notify the public of locations where they may have come into close contact with the virus. The webpage is publichealth.co.oneida.wi.us/services/communicable-disease/covid-19-outbreaks-and-investigations. 

It includes locations categorized as low and high risk; a measure determined based on the chance you came into contact with the virus and the ability of the health department to identify and notify potential contacts. Businesses who participate in collecting patron info would be listed in the low-risk category in the event of an exposure.

Locations will remain on the list for 14 days after the last known positive case was there. The page will be updated frequently as information becomes available. Those who may have been at a high-risk location will be asked to complete the self-screening tool at healthconnect.com.

“If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, please contact your medical provider to be tested,” said Conlon.



Reopening plan

Meanwhile, the Vilas County Public Health Department released its re-opening plan, dated June 8, 2020, and metrics based on the local COVID-19 testing results and regional and state data received from the North Central Wisconsin Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition.

“In order to reopen Vilas County, different considerations are taken to prevent an unexpected increase of cases of COVID-19 where health care and public health systems are over capacity to respond appropriately,” the plan reads. “Community partners will work together to monitor the positive cases and perform contact tracing to address future waves. Health care, public safety, and public health must be able to reassess on a regular basis in regards to reopening.

“We must also remember that despite the county’s low infection rates, the chances for being sick and getting others sick with COVID-19 still exists and may increase with less-stringent guidance in place and herd immunity not met,” the plan reads.

“The Vilas County Public Health Department continues to encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible, only go out for essential needs, practice physical/social distancing, good hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning practices, and utilize cloth face coverings in public when physical/social distancing is difficult to do,” the plan reads.

The metrics address how well the county, region and state are doing on public health, testing and health care, including the trajectory of positive COVID-19 tests.

General responsibilities for the public in the reopening plan include: physical distancing of 6 feet or more between individuals who belong to different households, continue to practice good hygiene, people who feel sick should stay home, and cloth face coverings are strongly recommended for all public activities where social distancing is not possible for anyone who can wear them (recognizing that those with certain medical or physical conditions may not be able to).

To read the latest information about COVID-19 visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website at dhs.wisconsin.gov or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov.