COVID-19 level remains high in Jefferson County

A total of five positive cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the Fort Atkinson and Jefferson school districts.

The School District of Fort Atkinson was notified last Wednesday that a positive COVID-19 case had been reported at both Rockwell Elementary School and Fort Atkinson Middle School.

Then on Friday, families were told that three students or staff members in the School District of Jefferson had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Last Tuesday morning, Lake Mills High School closed for the rest of the week after a third student tested positive for COVID-19. Students switched to virtual learning and were to return to class Monday.

Fort Atkinson school district officials said that upon learning of the two COVID-19 cases, they initiated initial contact tracing, with a follow-up coming from the Jefferson County Health Department.

“When a positive case of COVID-19 is reported, families and staff who are affected will receive a School District of Fort Atkinson initial communication via email and an automated phone call,” district officials said. “Students and/or staff who are identified as a close contact to (physical contact, or within 6 feet of the individual for 15 minutes or more throughout the day) will receive additional communication from the county Health Department providing information regarding steps to ensure maximum safety and minimize spread.”

The individuals who have been identified as close contacts have shifted to virtual learning, as required Jefferson County Health Department, officials said. Per the district’s established protocol, all classrooms were closed off so that the custodial staff could thoroughly clean and disinfect the spaces that the individual(s) used in the past several days.

“If you have not received a “close contact” letter or a phone call from the school district, your child is not considered to be a close contact,” officials said. “As such, there is not a recommendation that your child needs to be tested for COVID-19 or needs to be quarantined.”

They added that the School District of Fort Atkinson will never disclose personally identifiable information of students or staff, which is covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

The district and the Jefferson County Health Department are closely monitoring this situation and will notify families if any additional actions need to be taken in the near future, families were told.

“Please continue to practice preventative measures, and self-screen on a daily basis,” district officials advised.

School District of Jefferson Superintendent Mark Rollefson said there were three positive cases within the school district. Jefferson High School is known as one of, if not the only, site.

“Due to confidentiality, I am not comfortable sharing if they were staff or students or a combination,” Rollefson said. “I feel that in a small enough of a school district, this can become quickly identifiable by others. Those three positive cases all came to the attention of the Jefferson County Health Department and to School District of Jefferson administration early afternoon on Friday.

“This gave us very little time before the weekend to do contact tracing and to assure of a thorough job as such,” he added, noting that Friday was a non-student day set aside for professional development.

“As a result of contact tracing, this resulted in dozens of students and some staff who were within 6 feet and for greater than 15 minutes, resulting in COVID exposure,” Rollefson said.

He noted that a general email communication went out to all families. A more specific communication was shared with the families of students who will need to quarantine for 14 days due to exposure.

The letter also indicated that the district was cleaning and disinfecting the school to control the spread of the virus.

“If your child did not have close contact with a person with COVID-19 in our school, you will not receive another letter,” the letter stated.

“However, everyone in your household should wash their hands frequently, keep 6 feet away from others, wear a mask or cloth face covering in public, watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and seek medical care when sick. Someone from the school may reach out to you with questions in the course of their contact identification process. Please assist them as they work to investigate and control COVID-19 in our school.”

The letter then shared guidelines to help further spread the virus.

Meanwhile, the activity level of COVID-19 remains high in Jefferson County and the state, the Jefferson County Health Department’s epidemiologist announced.

Epidemiologist Samroz Jakvani cautioned about attending large group gatherings, buffets and other events.

In August, almost 40 percent of residents with positively confirmed cases in the county said they recently had attended a large gathering with others, the Health Department reported.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Sunday that more than 100,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Officials confirmed 1,665 positive tests in the last day, for a total of 101,227 cases. One new death was reported, for a total of 1,242 fatalities due to complications from COVID-19.

Of the 8,320 test results processed in the last day, 20 percent were positive. The positivity rate on Saturday was more than 18 percent.

The update showed there are 362 patients currently hospitalized, including 105 in intensive care units.

Wisconsin ranks seventh in the country for new cases per capita in the last two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Of the positive cases in the state, 1,333 were reported in Jefferson County and 1,572 in Dodge County. Jefferson County has had seven people die from the coronarvirus and Dodge County recently reported its ninth death from the virus, among the nine a 20-year-old man.

In Jefferson County, of those positive cases, more than 300 were reported in people ages 18-34. The second-largest group of cases were reported in the 35-49 age category.

Jefferson County as of Sunday reported 1,214 cases and 72 probable cases. The difference between these numbers and the one above likely is that they might not include cases in Watertown, which is split by Jefferson and Dodge counties and has its own city health department.

At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a total 300 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. That includes 97 students last week and 139 the week before and one staff member last week.

The Jefferson County epidemiologist said that many individuals with COVID-19 might be asymptomatic (without symptoms) and it is possible they are unaware of their infection. These individuals, along with those who are symtomatic (with symptoms) might transmit the virus to others within the community, through physical or close contact, or shared surfaces and communal area.

“The more community members follow best practices to reduce the risk of infection, the lower the risk of cases occurring in schools,” Jakvani said. “Rising numbers of cases may potentially lead to large numbers of students and staff in quarantine or isolation, and further disruption of a student’s ability to learn virtually or in-person. More cases may also lead to severe illness among those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.”

He said that places to exercise increased caution include buffets, bars, public pools and beaches, amusement parks, casinos, and bowling alleys; public transportation and public bathrooms; theaters and religious congregations; sports stadiums, sporting events, tailgating or birthday parties, and backyard barbecues; workplaces, such as factories; nursing homes, assisted living centers, detention centers, and other long-term residential facilities; hair and nail salons, gyms, and recreational facilities.

Jakvani also urged people to avoid areas with a cramped layout that does not allow for 6 feet of separation and placed with poor ventilation and air circulation, or low air space-to-person ratio; avoid people who are talking a lot, shouting, singing, panting, or coughing and people who are lingering for a long time and no regulation of foot traffic; and avoid people who are not following prevention guidelines or are not taking precautions.

“Remember to wear a mask or proper face covering that fits well — ensure the effectiveness of what you are using to cover your mouth and nose using CDC guidelines,” Jakvani said. “Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the covering without assistance.”

Wearing a mask is critical to staying safe and slowing the spread of the virus especially in public settings when around people not living in your household, and particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, according to county health officials.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Friday that a high school teacher in the Howard-Suamico School District has died after being hospitalized for COVID-19.

School district officials sent a letter to its students’ families notifying them that Heidi Hussli had died on Thursday. The letter said the Bay Port High School German teacher was hospitalized briefly before her death.

The letter also included a note from Hussli’s family which said they are devastated by her loss and asked for privacy to grieve and reflect, WLUK-TV reported.

The 47-year-old Hussli was a native of Beaver Dam and taught German at Bay Port for 16 years.

Superintendent Damian LaCroix said news of her death is heart-wrenching to all who knew her. LaCroix said, in the letter, that Hussli’s “positivity and passion for her students and her craft left a lasting mark on our school community.”

Hussli is survived by her husband and son.

As of Thursday, Bay Port was reporting nine positive cases of COVID-19, eight involving students.

Under the school district’s reopening plan, Bay Port students attend in-person classes two days a week with an option for a third day.

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