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0000017b-185c-d2e5-a37b-5cff92510000Wisconsin State and Local Government Sources: Wisconsin Department of Health Services: COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)Oneida County Health DepartmentVilas County Health DepartmentLincoln County Health DepartmentMarathon County Health Department Langlade County Health DepartmentWestern Upper Peninsula Health DepartmentForest County Health DepartmentFederal Government Sources:Centers for Disease Control (CDC)Risk Assessment PageSituation Summary PageState Department Travel AdvisoriesWorld Health Organization (WHO)WHO Question and Answer Page

Northwoods COVID Numbers Are Likely Higher Than Statistics Show. Here's Why.

Positive tests from seasonal residents and vacationers to the Northwoods aren’t counted in county COVID-19 data, WXPR has confirmed.

That means COVID-19 data available to the public is likely underrepresenting the number of positive virus tests in Northwoods counties.

Several Northwoods counties have seen a spike in COVID-19 positive cases in the last week, as detailed below. But those numbers aren’t even counting people who tested positive here, but permanently live somewhere else.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer for infectious disease, confirmed the process in a WXPR forum, which aired Thursday.

“When we receive notice of a positive test, or any reportable condition, the case report is tagged to the area where they live,” Westergaard said. “The lead agency in responding to that is the local health jurisdiction of where that person lives.”

COVID-19 numbers in a Northwoods county, therefore, don’t include positive cases among seasonal residents or visitors.

Westergaard acknowledges that may create fears that county data “may be skewed,” but he said state and local health officials work together to address all positive cases, no matter where they happen.

“We would work as a team, collaboratively, with the health department at the state. The health department where the person [has a] permanent residence would quickly identify that, okay, they haven’t been here, they haven’t exposed anyone else in our jurisdiction, so we’re going to work with the Vilas County Health Department, for example, to do that local investigation,” he said.

Official numbers of positive cases in many Northwoods counties have shot up alongside the state’s current rise.

Oneida County now stands at 43 cases, up from 28 a week ago.

Forest County has 49 cases, including three deaths. The majority of cases are associated with The Bay at Nu Roc in Laona, a senior living center.

Several other counties reported significant spikes in the last week.

Lincoln County went from 18 to 25 cases. Iron County more than doubled from just nine cases to 24 this week. Gogebic County, Mich., reported 19 cases, up from 12 just four days ago. Price County now has nine cases, up from six a week ago.

Official numbers in Vilas County, with 15, and Langlade County, with 11, stayed relatively flat.

In addition to the three deaths in Forest County, Iron, Gogebic, and Langlade counties have each reported one death.

Also this week, the Lincoln County Health Department reported a COVID-19 outbreak at the Throw Line Drinkery in Merrill. Two people associated with the bar tested positive. The health department is asking people who visited the bar and didn’t socially distance on July 10, 11, or 12 to stay home and monitor their symptoms.

Note: this story has been updated to reflect the Vilas County Public Health Department was reporting 15 positive cases at the time of the original writing. At first, the story put Vilas County's number at 17, which was the figure reported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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