With cases in La Crosse County, health experts waiting for signs of community spread

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– The latest confirmed coronavirus case in La Crosse County was a family member of a previously announced household. But health experts remain focused on preventing additional cases across our community because cases could quickly escalate.

Despite a growing number of cases, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is not issuing a shelter in place order yet.

“That doesn’t change what we are telling individuals and that is that if you can stay home, you should stay home,” said Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department.

Right now, the county health department is particularly concerned about people around the area that might not know they’re infected.

“Those with mild symptoms are part of causing the spread across our country,” Rombalski said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 15,219 cases in the United States. Though there are likely many more cases that have yet to be reported over the last few days.

“Not knowing how many people are potentially infectious at this particular point in time, raises some concerns,” said Dan Duquette, professor of Health Ed & Health Promotion at UW-La Crosse.

Bell Curve

This shows the exponential growth of the disease if life continued as usual. But if we limit the contacts we have with others, the number of cases goes down significantly and happens over a longer period of time as to not overwhelm healthcare providers.

You might have heard experts talk about flattening the curve or seen this graphic, which shows how fast the disease could spread without intervention.

Social isolation drastically slows the number of cases, but it might not get rid of it.

“But at least becomes very, very negligible in populations,” Duquette said.

Bike Analogy

In this analogy, other bikes could keep coming into contact with the first infected bicycle, rapidly accelerating the number of local cases.


It’s kind of like this bicycle. If this bike was an infected person it could go to other parts of the community, potentially spreading the disease. But it’s bolted in place so without other bicycles coming near it, the disease stops here.

It also helps health experts conduct what’s called ‘contact tracing.’ They can more easily narrow down who you might have passed the virus along to and tell them to self-quarantine for the recommended amount of time.

“It becomes really important in controlling communicable, infectious diseases to be able to trace the contacts people have had,” Duquette said.

Duquette said this still can be done, like with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But limited resources at the local level could be spread thin if the cases of the new coronavirus increase rapidly through community spread, so we all have to follow the guidelines.

“If we follow those recommendations, social distancing and [good] hand hygiene, we can deal with the disease,” Duquette said.

The health department said it is waiting on the results from other tests for potential cases. And with more cases across the state, there is still a risk for other people to be exposed to the virus through other contacts.