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COVID-19 outbreak identified at Walworth County long-term care facility: ‘Not good news’

Data pix.

LAKE GENEVA -- In a place known for its beauty, COVID-19 is showing its ugly face in Walworth County. In one day, the number of positive cases jumped from 49 to 72; five people have died in connection to COVID-19 in the county.

"The vast majority of the cases we've had have not posed a greater risk once we've known that they're out there," said Carlos Nevicosi, deputy director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services. "Until now."

That "now" came because of a big problem at Geneva Lake Manor. On Friday, Walworth County health officials not only released the name of one of two facilities infected with COVID-19 but also steps the facility must follow according to the county's health officer.

"What brought them to our attention was the large number of cases that happened relative to the size of the facility," Nevicosi said.

While the county's health department will only say it was more than three cases, it was enough to prompt an order -- mandating new procedures at the long-term care facility.

"[The] health officer order, was really needed to contain the spread to this facility and contain the spread," said Nevicosi.

In the three page order, the facility must abide by a lengthy list of procedural and reporting changes. It must notify the health department of any possible COVID-19 patient and reveal any contact that person has had within 36 hours.

Staff members are no longer allowed to transfer among facilities and must wear personal protective equipment.

No resident is allowed to be transferred to another facility unless of medical needs while the order is in effect. Anyone who is transferred into the facility must have already had COVID-19 or been exposed. And anyone who is discharged with COVID-19 must be reported to the health department.

FOX 6 asked Nevicosi if the order was issued because the facility wasn't doing those things. He did not have that information readily available, but said the data they had suggested the numbers there were reason to make the public aware of the outbreak.

"We want the public to know, we have the ability to share this information and, when we believe the public's health is jeopardized, we will share that information," Nevicosi said

Tom Hartz

The news is even new to Lake Geneva's mayor, Tom Hartz.

"That's not good news," Hartz said. "That would suggest that it's going to grow from there."

Hartz said he is hopeful that an increase in testing will tell them more.

"Now that we're opening the door to testing, we're going to start getting that information to ascertain whether the measures we're taking are working or not," said Hartz.

There is one other known outbreak in a Walworth County long-term care facility, but officials will not release that facility's name at this time.

"We've got latitude to release a lot of information in a pandemic like this," said Nevicosi. "We really have to be careful, good stewards of people's privacy and privacy of these private entities."

Walworth County health officials define a coronavirus outbreak as three or more residents or staff infected with the virus. They said, while there is not an "outbreak" definition" specific to COVID-19 cases, they will use the definition of an Acute Respiratory Illness Outbreak.

While it confirmed there are positive cases, Geneva Lake would not say how many. The facility said anyone who is negative is in a secured area and being taken care of by staff who also tested negative.

Geneva Lake statement to FOX6 News:

Like everyone, the leadership, staff and residents are doing our best to remain safe and stay positive during these uncharted times. Even with the best efforts, Geneva Lake is currently working through the challenges presented to our nation as a result of this pandemic.

Our facility was proactive in implementing testing measures to identify cases and is taking even greater action to reduce the risk of spreading this disease. We currently have residents who have tested positive. Most of these confirmed cases have been asymptomatic. Those who tested negative have been quarantined into a secured area to further ensure they remain as protected from COVID-19 as possible and are being cared for by staff who also have tested negative.

Geneva Lake is taking more stringent steps to protect our residents and has been reporting and cooperating fully with all local, county and state health agencies. We will continue to follow CDC guidelines, use of PPE equipment for our staff, restricting all group activities, restricting staff assignments and no longer accepting admissions to the facility. Our sanitizing protocols will remain in place and visitation continues to be limited to ensure the safety of our residents, staff and greater community.

We have and will continue to ensure appropriate parties are notified of any changes. We recognize these steps may be constraining, but ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our caregivers and residents is our highest priority. We offer our heartfelt prayers to our resident families and this community to remain diligent in fighting this virus.

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