TCHD: County is in crisis due to COVID-19
The Trempealeau County Health Department issued a release last week saying the county is “in crisis” after yet another record-breaking week in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases.
Last week included two daily records, the first came on Tuesday with 62 new cases — breaking the previous record of 49, which was set Nov. 5. Tuesday’s record only lasted 24 hours as 75 new cases were announced by the Trempealeau County Health Department on Wednesday. In all, there were 386 new cases from last week Monday to this week Monday and two more people passed away from the virus, putting the county’s death total at 10.
Friday’s press release was sent to declare that the number of cases had exceeded the health department’s contact tracing capacity. There were 778 total cases at the beginning of October, according to the Department of Health Services, but 994 positive tests have been reported in the last 46 days. Last week was the fourth straight week in which a record for new cases was set, breaking the previous record of 228. As of Monday, the county had 668 active cases and 15 of the people were hospitalized, the health department reported.
“This number of deaths and hospitalizations is unacceptable,” the release said. “Medical facilities in the Western Region are overwhelmed and reporting impacts on their capacity to care for those hospitalized, along with staffing issues as employees need to quarantine or have become ill.”
According to the DHS, there were 76 new cases in the Trempealeau area last week and 69 in Arcadia. Osseo reported 48 new cases, Whitehall, 46; Galesville, 43; Eleva/Strum, 31; Blair, 19 and Independence, 16.
The county’s elderly residents have been hit particularly hard. Data released by the health department showed 19 new cases amongst county residents who are 80 years old or older and 78 of the new cases were residents 60 or older. The county has had seven deaths within the last month.
“The spread is being driven by in-person family gatherings, meeting up with friends, weddings, and spending time indoors at bars and restaurants,” the release said. “Now is the time to stay home. Cancel parties, play dates, and get-togethers. Enjoy the outdoors with members of your household, but avoid unnecessary visits with others. Stay home except for work, school, essential errands and necessary healthcare.”
In addition to the elderly, school districts have been impacted as three of the five districts in the Times’-area — Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Arcadia and Independence — will close, allowing only virtual education until at least Nov. 30. There were 45 new cases amongst school-aged residents (ages five-to-19) last week, though health department officials have said that because of the precautions taken by the districts, the cases have all originated outside of the schools.
This week Tuesday, TCHD Director Barb Barczak announced plans to issue an order requiring face-coverings, similar to the order that is currently in place. However, Barczak said the new order could have some "teeth" to it soon as the county's board of health approved sending a modified ordinance to the full county board. The adjustment to the ordinance would give the health department the power to fine county residents who refuse to comply with the face-covering order. More details will be available in next week's Times.
TCHD Director Barb Barczak said the county will be applying to be among the distributors for a COVID-19 vaccine. Barczak said she has the application ready for one of the vaccinations that are in the process of being approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
While the Pfizer vaccine is generally believed to be the one that will get FDA approval first, Barczak said she hoped the county received a different vaccine, due to difficulties storing that specific vaccine. That vaccine must be kept at negative-81 degrees Fahrenheit and includes two shots to be administered 21 days apart. Barczak said the health department does not have the equipment to store the Pfizer vaccine.
While she expects that the county’s application will be approved, Barczak said that between approval from the FDA and a committee that determines who should get priority for the vaccine, she doesn’t expect to have the vaccine available until early in 2021, possibly not until after January.
When the vaccine is available, it will be distributed based on priority groups. The first group will be healthcare providers “on the front lines.” The next group would be essential personnel — law enforcement, fire fighters, first responders, etc. Then it would be released to the general population, again based on priority groups, likely with elderly people being the highest priority.
Until then, Barczak is hoping the county board adopts ordinances that would give her more power to enforce orders and that more county residents begin following the guidelines issued by the Center of Disease Control.