As the Labor Day weekend starts, health departments from the tri-county area—including Calumet County, City of Appleton, City of Menasha, Outagamie County, and Winnebago County—urge residents to avoid gatherings, events, and crowded spaces.

“As positive case rates continue to increase across our region, we are asking everyone in our communities to help stop the transmission,” said Natalie Vandeveld, public health officer/manager for Outagamie County Public Health. “With the holiday weekend here, it is more important than ever to make safe choices regarding family events and group activities.”

In total, the five health departments have seen 554 new cases over this last week, which is a significant jump from the week prior when 334 cases were reported. This spike puts case rates at an all-time high for the area. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services classifies the burden status of Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago County as high, which means that over the past two weeks each county had over 100 new positive cases per 100,000 residents. Outagamie County had the highest burden in the tri-county region at 280 cases per 100,000 residents.

“In the past month, Calumet County has seen its number of positive cases more than double, and the average number of close contacts to each of those confirmed cases has grown as well,” said Bonnie Kolbe, health division manager/health officer for Calumet County Health and Human Services. “Actions taken this holiday weekend can impact the health, school participation, and employment for your family and others in the weeks ahead.”

It is more critical now than ever that people follow health and safety guidelines to reduce the spread of the disease as schools and universities reopen their doors and nursing homes continue to provide care for those most at-risk in communities. This includes wearing a mask, limiting contact with people outside of the household, staying at least six feet from others, and practicing good hand hygiene. If people are feeling ill, stay home, consult with a health care provider, and get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms exist.

“Schools are taking every precaution they possibly can, but we have already seen some in our county have to adjust plans because of COVID-19 infections among staff,” said Doug Gieryn, director/health officer for Winnebago County Public Health. “If individuals don’t follow public health recommendations and guidance it will be harder for schools and businesses to remain open.”

As people consider Labor Day plans, it is important to remember that gatherings bring a high level of risk for getting and spreading COVID-19, officials said. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the more people an individual interacts with at a gathering, and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with and spreading COVID-19. According to the CDC, the risk of spreading COVID-19 at events and gatherings increases as follows:

• Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.

• More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least six feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

• Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.

• Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

“This virus is highly transmissible and efficient,” said Nancy McKenney, public health director for the City of Menasha. “Please take all precautions necessary to break the chain of transmission and suppress the disease.”

Of course, staying home is the safest option for weekend celebrations. But if people must host or attend a gathering, consider ways to improve the safety for everyone. This includes getting together outdoors where there is better ventilation, establishing a backup plan in case of rain to avoid crowded indoor spaces, requiring masks, arranging tables and chairs in a way that encourages social distancing, and avoiding shared drinks and food.

The local health departments in the region remind everyone to be responsible and do their part to stop the spread of infection. Additional recommendations include:

• staying home, especially if you are not feeling well;

• isolating from others if you are waiting for test results;

• for those who are able, wearing a mask when in public;

• avoiding gathering and crowding together with people who you do not live with;

• washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds;

• keeping a distance of at least six feet from those outside of your household.

“As cases in our region reach the highest we have seen to date, please support our schools and businesses by practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings when you interact with non-household members over the holiday weekend,” said Kurt Eggebrecht, health officer for the Appleton Health Department.

For more information on cases in the area and COVID-19 recommendations, visit local health department websites.

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