Second case of COVID-19 found in state as testing ramps up

The second case of COVID-19 in Wisconsin has been identified by state health officials and the individual is currently isolated at home in Pierce County.

A release from the state Department of Health Services shows the patient was exposed to the virus while traveling in the United States. County health officials are trying to determine who may have come in contact with the individual. 

Meanwhile, two commercial laboratories in Wisconsin can now test patients for COVID-19, state health officials announced yesterday. 

That’s in addition to the two public labs that have been handling testing so far — the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and the City of Milwaukee Health Department Laboratory. The two companies performing the tests are Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, both of which have locations in Milwaukee. 

More commercial labs will soon be able to conduct tests for the virus, according to Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases. In a conference call with reporters, he said the number of people being tested for the virus will likely “increase substantially” now that other labs can identify cases. 

He noted that may “seem alarming” but cautioned that more tests doesn’t necessarily mean more infections. 

Now that cases are occuring within the region from returning travelers as well as people without a travel history, Westergaard said the test administration is being expanded to help health officials contain the spread of the virus. 

He explained that testing will be accelerated for individuals who recently travelled to high-risk areas such as Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the current global outbreak. Patients with higher risk for negative health outcomes, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, will also be prioritized. 

Since COVID-19 often presents with upper and lower respiratory tract infections as well as fever, Westergaard said patients going to the hospital for these conditions will likely be tested for the virus. 

State health officials haven’t seen any evidence of community sharing of the virus in the state. At this point, they aren’t offering any blanket recommendations for those planning events other than preparing contingency plans for cancelling. 

But if the situation worsens and the virus starts getting passed between individuals in the state, he said “it’s fair to say” the agency may recommend more serious measures for event coordinators, schools and other large gatherings. 

In response to a reporter’s question about potential impacts on this summer’s Democratic National Convention, officials said the topic is being “regularly discussed” in various planning committees. But Traci DeSalvo, a disease specialist with the agency, noted it’s “hard to tell what it will look like in four months.” 

She said organizers and health officials will “keep up our surveillance” on the issue and will make more informed decisions once the date is closer. 

Though only two commercial labs in Wisconsin can now test for the virus, Westergaard said other labs could perform the tests as well if they have the technology and tools required and have “appropriately validated” their testing processes. 

The state is requiring that any ordered tests be reported to DHS so officials can follow up with potentially infected individuals. Plus any test results — positive or negative — must be reported to the agency. 

DHS is also changing the way it reports on COVID-19 testing, focusing only on the results of tests rather than the total number of pending tests. 

“We’re going to remove those pending case counts, but the reasoning is for that, once commercial labs are online, that number is going to change more quickly,” Westergaard said. 

The first two labs were up and running as of Monday. Officials explained the labs and hospitals are responsible for transporting these samples between the care setting and the testing location. 

In addition to the new commercial options, DeSalvo said the public labs in Madison and Milwaukee are “certainly ready” to take more specimens and continue testing. 

–By Alex Moe