/ Articles / County health departments outline COVID-19 location policy

County health departments outline COVID-19 location policy

Conlon: ‘We identify any public place that the community needs to know about’

April 17, 2020 by Brian Jopek

Last week, the Oneida and Vilas county public health departments reported the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in each county. 

The Oneida County public health department’s announcement of the county’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 27 set off a flurry of questions from people not only on the department’s Facebook page but that of The Lakeland Times as well.  

Some of those commenting on both pages wanted to know what municipality in the county the person was in. 

The same held true for Vilas County when that county’s public health department made the same announcement March 25 about that county’s first confirmed case.

Conlon on March 27 told The Lakeland Times with Oneida County being “a small, rural community” and if it had something like 30 or 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases — not the situation then or now — her department could break things out a little more.

At that time, though, with one confirmed case, she said there were no plans to do so. 

Monday, with three cases reported in each county — and a growing number of people on social media inquiring about the locations of the COVID-19 cases in the two counties, The Times reached out to Conlon and Dreger again regarding the policy. 

Provided in an email from the newspaper to both Conlon and Dreger on Monday was a release dated March 27 from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. 

While that release didn’t identify a person who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Michigan’s upper peninsula not far from the Wisconsin border, it did provide four locations the individual had visited between March 14 and March 18, the last two locations being the Bad River Casino in Odanah, 10 miles east of Ashland and the Brite Spot convenience store in Hurley. 

Both visits by the individual were on March 18. 

In response, Conlon said Monday in an email to The Times if personnel in her department “felt that there was an exposure at a public place that the community needed to know about, we would make that information public.”

“We always do an investigation with contact tracing, including places where people congregate, and if anyone is considered a close contact they are notified.”

Dreger, who explained for the Vilas County board at its March 24 meeting what the protocol would be for people in the county who tested positive for COVID-19, said she agreed with Conlon. 

“Again, if we identify any public place that the community needs to know about, we will use various methods to contact the public including telephone, email, and social media,” Conlon said. “We want to continue to stress that everyone needs to follow the governor’s order of safer at home for the protection of all especially those at greatest risk for contracting COVID- 19.”

Regarding the time it takes to get test results returned, Conlon indicated she was well aware of that frustration as well.

“When laboratories have the ability to do faster testing, we will be able to follow up much more quickly with positives and this will assist us in quarantining contacts faster and hopefully flatten the curve,” she said. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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