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In One Week, COVID-19 Cases Nearly Doubled in Eau Claire County

Tom Giffey

A Pennsylvania Department of Health microbiologist tests for the coronavirus in March. (Source: Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0)
A Pennsylvania Department of Health microbiologist tests for the coronavirus in March. (Source: Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0)

The number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Eau Claire County nearly doubled during the first week of May, according to figures released by the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Department Director Lieske Giese said Friday that there were 53 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Eau Claire County as of Friday, May 8, an increase of 25 – or 89% – since the prior Friday, May 1.

“We expect as more people are out and about and as the disease starts spreading in this community that we will see more positive cases, and we will have to work hard to contain that.” –Lieske Giese, Eau Claire City-County Health Department director

That percentage increase with the ninth largest among Wisconsin’s 72 counties over the previous seven days, according to coronavirus statistics released by the state Department of Health Services. And Eau Claire County’s increase was the largest percentage increase among counties in Wisconsin with more than 100,000 residents.

Overall, as of Friday, Eau Claire County has an infection rate of about 51 cases per 100,000 residents, putting it 31st among Wisconsin counties, or roughly in the middle of the pack. In terms of the total number of diagnosed cases, Eau Claire was No. 17, with Milwaukee (3,722 cases) leading the list.

The number of reported cases of COVID-19 had grown to 54 in Eau Claire County as of Sunday. There were 29 diagnosed cases in Chippewa County and 14 in Dunn County. Also as of Sunday, the number of positive COVID-19 cases statewide stood at 10,219, with 400 deaths. (The DHS posts statewide and county-by-county figures online each day at 2pm.)

During a media briefing Friday, Giese addressed the rising Eau Claire County caseload. “It’s startling to some people, going from a fairly steady number in the mid-20s up to 53 today,” she said. “We have had cases really every day recently, and we expect that.”

Giese noted that, despite the rising figure, the rate of hospitalization among COVID-19 cases in Eau Claire County has remained low, so the capacity of the region’s hospitals hasn’t been strained. In fact, in recent days, medical providers in the Chippewa Valley – including Mayo Clinic Health System, HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals, Prevea Health, and Marshfield Clinic Health System – have gradually been shifting back toward offering non-pandemic-related services, including certain in-person care options and elective surgeries.

Nonetheless, public health officials expect the number of COVID-19 cases to continue to grow in the Chippewa Valley. “We expect as more people are out and about and as the disease starts spreading in this community that we will see more positive cases, and we will have to work hard to contain that,” Giese said. “It’s not a surprise that there are more cases. Many of the cases that we’re currently dealing with are connected to one another, so that is another example of showing us that it is an easily spread disease.”

Giese’s remarks were made Friday, before the Wisconsin National Guard conducted drive-through COVID-19 testing on Sunday and Monday in Eau Claire. Giese said those testing sessions were likely to identify more cases of the virus, which will require the health department to conduct contact tracing to locate additional people who might have been exposed.

“This weekend is a chance for us to get a picture of COVID-19 in our community in a way that we otherwise haven’t been able to do,” she said.