DHS Releases New School Guidance, Warns Of Testing Shortages

All 72 Wisconsin Counties Have Reported New Cases In The Last 2 Weeks

A surgical mask, which are now commonly used to protect the wearer from the coronavirus, discarded on a northside Madison street.
A surgical mask, which are now commonly used to protect the wearer from the coronavirus, discarded on a north side Madison street. Steven Potter/WPR

New reports of COVID-19 cases are holding steady below 700 a day in Wisconsin this week, based on the latest data published by the state’s Department of Health Services.

DHS reported 663 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 747 daily cases. One week ago, the average was 760 daily cases.

Wednesday’s new case total is the highest it’s been since Sunday, when there were 685 new cases.

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Stephanie Smiley, interim administrator for the Division of Public Health, said Wisconsin has had fewer tests reported recently, which she said could be related to nationwide problems with getting some of the materials needed to take samples and process the tests.

“That may be reflecting those supply shortages, that we aren’t able to necessarily have the highest capacity being conducted on a daily basis,” she said on a briefing call to reporters Wednesday. “It could also reflect a decline in the number of individuals who are seeking testing.”

She said DHS is expecting more people to seek out testing over the next several weeks, as teachers, students and staff go back to school.

DHS also released two new tools on Wednesday. The first is a decision-making tool to help people weigh risks when thinking about doing any sort of out-of-the-home activity. The second is a set of guidelines for schools that walks through best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as guidance on testing, tracing and isolating if someone in the school tests positive.

“With the disease activity we are seeing, the reality is that we will see outbreaks in schools once the school year starts,” said Traci DeSalvo, acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases. “That is why this guidance is so important.”

The school guidance is meant to supplement the 87-page document from the Department of Public Instruction released earlier this summer, as well as the advice of local health departments.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 67,493, according to the DHS. A total of 1,060 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, with eight new deaths reported on Wednesday.

The latest coronavirus activity data from DHS, released once per week each Wednesday, showed that all but seven of the state’s 72 counties had a “high level” of coronavirus activity. Activity level designations are based on “burden,” or the number of new cases per a county’s population over a 14-day period, as well as whether there’s an upward or downward trend in new cases.

On Wednesday, counties with the highest case rates per capita included Iron, Marinette and Sawyer. The counties with the most significant upward trends included Iron, Manitowoc and Walworth.

There have been confirmed cases in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties. Based on the data from Wednesday, all counties reported new cases over the two-week period.


According to DHS, 7 percent of all test results reported on Wednesday were positive for COVID-19, bringing the overall percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 8 percent. That figure has been rising since Saturday, when it was 7 percent.

The percentage of positive cases is often read by public health officials as a measure of overall testing levels. A high rate could indicate that testing in the state is limited, and skewed toward those already flagged as potentially having the virus. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread.

Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to a virus’ spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

Wisconsin’s daily testing capacity — based on the availability of test supplies and adequate staffing — has grown from 120 available lab tests in early March to 27,211 as of Wednesday. The number of actual people with test results reported on Wednesday was 9,429.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 1,151,656 people’s test results over the course of the pandemic. 1,084,163 have tested negative.

DHS still has a dashboard showing Wisconsin’s progress on gating criteria under the now-defunct Badger Bounce Back Plan. Those gating criteria would have been used to determine when it would be safe to begin reopening the state, prior to the state Supreme Court ruling that ended a statewide stay-at-home order. The state has never met all six of the criteria at once.

Two of the criteria are a statistically significant 14-day downward trend in COVID-like cases reported in emergency departments, and a similar downward trend for influenza-like cases in emergency departments. Wisconsin does not currently have a downward trend in influenza-like illnesses over the last two weeks.

According to DHS, 5,430 people have been hospitalized because of the virus as of Wednesday. That means at least 8 percent of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the state have been hospitalized. DHS officials said they don’t know the hospitalization history of 22,610 people, or 33 percent.