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County COVID-19 investigation team playing catch up after case surge

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The La Crosse County Health Department's disease investigation team is finally beginning to catch up after being overwhelmed with a surge of cases.

In June, the county went six consecutive days with over 20 cases. Despite all of the calls, research, and emails, contact tracers and investigators could not keep up with the rising number of cases and eventually called upon Wisconsin's Communicable Disease Team to help out.

Education Director and contact tracer Becky Lakowske said the move helped alleviate some of the stress. The county would pass names over to the state to help contact positive cases, but that also took time to do for county workers.

They also depend on people picking up their phones or returning calls which has been challenging due to misinformation and privacy concerns. The department also said they've noticed a rise in contact tracing scams.

"We will never ask for financial information. We will never ask for your social security number," said Jen Rombalski, health director for the La Crosse County Health Department.

The county is in the process of taking back cases and contacts from the state. They recently hired 14 new contact tracers and are looking to hire more individuals. Case counts also continue to rise in Wisconsin, including three record-setting days this past weekend which is putting stress on the state team.

"That state resource is now being stretched with the number of calls and contacts they make in a day, so we are working really hard here in La Crosse County to make sure that we have the staff that we need to respond to the fluctuating number of cases that we have," said Lakowske.

When asked about how close the county is to catch up, Health Director Jen Rombalski said that they are very close.

"We are definitely catching up, and we should be able to communicate to those that are positive from the testing site last Friday or contacts that are being identified, said Rombalski. "We should be on top of that fairly well at this point."

Rombalski said that they also put into place a new process for when days get an overwhelming amount of cases. Investigators will still call a person that has tested positive, and they will provide them with instructions to fill out a HIPA compliant form for the department.

"It doesn't replace the interview but it gives us a little bit of time to make sure we're getting the key information shared both with them and from them," said Rombalski.

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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