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COVID-19 showing few signs of slowing spread


Kali photo/Christopher Johnson

The Oneida Community Health Center’s Mercedes Dumas (RN, BSN) prepares COVID-19 test kits for another day of community testing at the former Woodland Assembly of God Church. Located at 760 Airport Drive, testing is done Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 11.:30 a.m. With positive cases surging in Northeast Wisconsin in recent weeks, the community is asked to remain vigilant and continue to abide by social distancing guidelines.

As the year 2020 creeps toward its end, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing few signs of slowing its spread in Northeast Wisconsin. The region continues to be one of the primary hot spots with surging infection numbers in recent weeks. “This wasn’t unexpected,” Michelle Myers, Oneida Community Public Health Officer, said. “We’ve been talking about this and saw this coming. This is why we implemented public health measures early on and we’ve always talked about flattening the curve. We were trying to minimize positive cases so we didn’t overwhelm our health care systems. Well, we’re there now and this is definitely concerning.”

Green Bay-area hospitals still have the capacity to assist the public with other emergencies but they’re filling up fast, Myers said. “This is something we need the community to be aware of without causing fear,” Myers said.

One possible contributing factor to the increase in numbers is a softening in people’s attitudes towards the virus. More than six months in to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are simply reaching the burn-out point with health and safety regulations. “I think people are exhausted,” Myers said. “Even some folks that were diligent in the beginning are letting their guard down and returning to activities that we would now recognize as high-risk for spread. We understand that our messages may now be falling on deaf ears because it’s the same message, but these are critical messages.

“People have been isolated and they’ve had to adjust their life to try and follow these messages,” Myers said. “We had a lot of things happen in September like some schools opening for in-person, Labor Day weekend, and football season, so we were seeing was a lot of social gathering. The weather is now getting colder so are these outdoor parties or will they be going inside?”

Recent data suggests the latest rise in positive cases is occurring among adults. “We’re seeing the highest increase in cases in the 20-59-year-old age group,” Myers said. “These folks are adults who know better and understand the recommendations, yet this is the age group where we’re seeing the spike happening. Certainly all age groups are increasing but the data shows this is the primary group.

“This age group has children and they take care of elderly parents, so in looking at the data beyond the numbers we are seeing these are people whose lives are being impacted,” Myers said. “Yes, you wanted to go to the bars, but now that means your children’s school has to close and they have to go to virtual learning. I wish there was some way for the community to see the data as more than just numbers going up, and instead as the actual impact that has on people’s lives. Yes, that can mean hospitalization and in some cases even death.”

The onset of flu season will only add to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. “That’s something that is certainly on our radars right now,” Myers said. “We’re going to have to navigate this one day at a time and we’re asking people to do the right things by reducing their risks. Stay home, social distance, and mask because we don’t know what that impact is going to be. So what does influenza season in combination with COVID-19 look like? That’s something of concern and on our minds every day.”

Due to the currently high positivity rates in Brown and Outagamie Counties it is recommended that anybody displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 get tested as quickly as possible. “If you think for one moment you have symptoms of COVID you should get tested immediately,” Myers said. “The high positivity rate means it’s circulating in the community, so even if it’s mild symptoms and it seems like no big deal, it’s who you spread it to is where our concern is. Even if you only have a sniffly nose you don’t know how that will impact your elderly parents or grandparents. So if you have symptoms, the only way to know for certain is to get tested.”

Testing for any community member or tribal employee is currently being administered at the former Woodland Assembly of God Church located at 760 Airport Drive on the Oneida Nation Reservation. Hours of operation are from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. “We’re looking to expand this as we bring more staff back from furlough and lay off status,” Myers said. “It takes staffing to do that and conduct our normal operations, so it’s been a juggling act.”

As the world and the Oneida Nation continues to fight their way through the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to remember to keep up with social distancing and the wearing of masks. “By following these critical safety measures you’re protecting your neighbors, your family, and your co-workers. This is about protecting those around you from your germs. Be mindful of how your decision today impacts your community for the next two weeks.”