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Scenic Bluffs gets funding for increased COVID-19 testing

 

By PAT MULVANEY

Herald Editor

With the help of a recent $212,359 grant, Scenic Bluffs Health Center of Cashton plans to ramp up testing for COVID-19.

Mari Freiberg, Scenic Bluffs CEO/executive director, said the grant was part of the Paycheck Protection Program funding to support community health providers in testing the workforce for the virus.

She said the money will go toward extending the scope of the population currently being tested, which was, until earlier this week, restricted to people showing symptoms of the virus. The state has now allowed for expanding the testing to assess priority populations.

“Scenic Bluffs is in a community where COVID has a relatively low incidence, so the goal is to test people who are asymptomatic … to slow down the spread of the virus if there is any in the community,” said Freiberg.

Once people who have the virus but are showing no symptoms are identified the county can do contact tracing to isolate them and the people they have been in contact with.

“No one is really sure what our region looks like in terms of infection rate other than knowing we don’t have a lot of people who are demonstrating symptoms of the disease but we don’t know if there are more people who have the infection and just aren’t showing symptoms,” she said.

Part of the plan, according to Freiberg, is to set up a drive-through testing campaign in Cashton to test people who don’t have symptoms to see if there are any asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

She said Scenic Bluffs also is trying to reach into communities it services, especially the Amish community and workers in the dairy and meat packing industries. Her concern is that people in the area haven’t stopped working because they are considered essential. That, coupled with an influx of people from outside the area still coming here to visit the Amish greenhouses and for recreation, has likely exposed workers to the virus.

Meat plants have caused COVID hotspots in Brown County as well as other parts of the nation. Norwalk’s meat plant, which has between 150 and 200 workers, raises concerns about their susceptibility to the virus.

Freiberg said the Monroe County Health Department is in active communication with meat plant and Scenic Bluffs stand ready to test any workers who feel like they have illness or may need health services.

So far, Scenic Bluffs has tested 15 to 20 people for the virus and has had no positive cases. The turnaround time to get test results has been two to nine days, which Freiberg said is unacceptable.

“People can’t hole up for a long time while waiting for their test results,” she said.

The clinic is now working with a new company which has guaranteed a 48-hour turnaround time once they receive the test.

“Right now my goal is to identify as many people as we can who are ill so they can do contact tracing,” said Freiberg, adding the safer-at-home order slowed the spread and now people have to learn how to live with a constant low-level infection rate.

“It’s a long slog which is very frustrating for people. I get it. I’m just grateful people have been as good as they’ve been with masking and staying at home. None of it is fun for any of us.”

 

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