Wisconsin to conduct 2 health surveys to track COVID-19

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 12:31 PM CDT
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Two population health studies in Wisconsin are being launched to better understand where COVID-19 is in the state, identify communities at risk for a future outbreak and help prevent the spread of the virus, the state Department of Health Services announced Wednesday.

“One of the most challenging things about COVID-19 is that as a new virus, there is still so much to learn”, said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “That is why this type of research is essential to our statewide efforts and until there is a vaccine, we must do everything we can to protect our communities and ensure that we are safely reopening the state.”

The first study will be led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, also known as SHOW. It will determine the prevalence of people who have COVID-19 antibodies. The presence of antibodies indicates that a person had COVID-19 in the past, perhaps without realizing it.

People who have participated in past SHOW research will be chosen from 10 randomly selected counties and the city of Milwaukee to form a representative state sample, said the group’s director, Kristen Malecki.

The second study will test samples from wastewater treatment facilities, in both urban and rural areas, to determine the current concentration levels of virus genetic material found in sewage.

The water testing can help health officials identify where and to what extent COVID-19 is circulating within a community and can help them minimize its transmission, the state health department said.

The survey is designed to help communities deal with potential surges in cases, not to replace existing public health surveillance, said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, chief medical officer for the state health department’s Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health.

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on that study.

Both of the newly announced surveys are scheduled to last a year.

There have been 703 deaths in Wisconsin attributed to COVID-19 and nearly 23,200 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. Of those who contracted the virus, 74% have recovered and 3% have died, the health department said.