Had you asked Kathy Ronchi earlier Thursday, June 25, if Douglas County was out of the woods with the pandemic, she would have given a different answer than she gave that evening.
After 20 days with no new cases of COVID-19, Douglas County’s public health officer learned Thursday that two tests came back positive, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 22. Prior to that, June 6 was the last time Douglas County had an increase in the number of confirmed cases of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Ronchi said she didn’t have a lot of information yet on the latest infections, which weren’t confirmed until after the state Department of Health Services updated its daily report on the disease. However, she said that like a lot of cases on the rise in other parts of the state and nation, the newest positive test results affected two people in their 20s.
Statewide, people ages 20-29 account for the largest percentage of COVID-19 cases at 21%, according to DHS. The next highest age bracket is people ages 30-39, who account for 18% of the state's total cases.
“That has been the age group that we’ve seen a big spike in,” Ronchi said. “The concern for that is that the 20-somethings may handle the virus well — they get sick for a short period of time and recover — but it’s the types of jobs they do and the people they’re around that we get concerned out.
“What we’re seeing in the southern part of the state is quite an increase in numbers, quite a spike in cases in that population,” Ronchi said. “You can probably relate it to the social activities.”
Two more cases were confirmed Sunday, bringing the total to 24.
While state data shows the number of confirmed cases remains low in Douglas County — less than 0.1% of the population — and the surrounding 10-county northwest planning region, Ronchi said there is still cause for concern.
In the northwest planning district, which includes Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor and Washburn counties, a total of 64 confirmed cases and three deaths had been reported as of June 22, 100 days after Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency and the day Wisconsin’s total number of confirmed cases first exceeded 25,000.
As of Monday, the northwest district creeped upward to 80 cases with no new deaths, while the state rose to 28,058 cases with 777 deaths, according to DHS.
An analysis of the data shows that 61% of those cases were reported in the seven counties that make up the southeast regional planning district, which is trending down slightly. Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties accounted for about 71% of the cases statewide in mid-April and 66% of all cases statewide at the end of May after trending down to about 60% in mid-May.
About 35% of the state’s population lives in the southeast region.
The northwest region, which accounts for 3% of the state’s population, has never reached 1% of all COVID-19 cases reported statewide.
“The people in Douglas County have done a really good job,” Ronchi said. “Even when the businesses reopened there was a concern. I know so many of the business owners have worked so hard to make their businesses safe for people to visit.”
Countless businesses have marked floors to indicate safe distances and directional paths for one-way shopping, installed plexiglass shields, improved sanitation and require staff to wear facial masks.
But, Ronchi said, the responsibility to limit the spread of COVID-19 extends beyond businesses.
“It isn’t just up to the businesses to have a safe environment,” she said. “It’s up to customers that are choosing to go there (to) follow the recommendations to maintain social distancing and that kind of thing.”
Ronchi said she is concerned about summer activities and travel to and from other parts of the state causing the disease to spread.
While she doesn't want people to be afraid, Ronchi said people shouldn't ignore what's happening elsewhere in Wisconsin.
“It’s just being mindful of where you’re going and what you’re doing and where you’re spending your time." she said.
And people have the best chance of stopping the spread with a cloth face covering.
“The face mask protects other people from you,” Ronchi said. “So if you have traveled, if you have been around people you’re unfamiliar with — somebody who may have had the disease — then you should definitely be wearing that mask.”
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This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. on Monday, June 29, with the most recent COVID-19 case numbers and graphics. It was originally posted on June 26 at noon.