How Waupaca County responded to pandemic
Public health officials led fight against covid
By Robert Cloud
Noting they faced the most dangerous pandemic in a century, the resolution applauded the public health staff for their exceptional work and dedication.
“As leaders in the fight against COVID-19, Waupaca County Public Health provided and supported critical efforts in response to combating the COVID-19 pandemic including, but not limited to: investigated and supported over 6,000 COVID-19 cases, partnered with the Wisconsin National Guard to provide testing to thousands of Wisconsin residents, hired and trained 20 limited-term employees to support response efforts, participated in daily collaborations with community partners, provided countless consultations, issued numerous community communications and news releases, and became an authorized COVID-19 vaccinator delivering more than 8,000 vaccine shots,” according to the board’s resolution.
Jed Wohlt, the county’s public health officer, said his department hired an additional 20 people to help respond to the emergency.
“Our team navigated every challenge along the way with fortitude and resolve to do what it took to protect and guide the community through an unprecedented public health crisis,” he said. “I think the most remarkable thing about this team is they never batted an eye in what has been an unrelenting task.”
Wohlt said the staff spent a year dealing with overwhelming caseloads.
“When the work called for no days off and endless hours, there was no wavering,” he said. “The work that this group of people has done and continues to do has helped save lives.”
Joanne Noah began working as a public health nurse for Waupaca County in the fall of 2019.
Formerly a nurse who worked 12-hour shifts in an acute care hospital in the northern part of the state, Noah described her work during the pandemic as never-ending and terrifying.
Memorial Day was the first weekend she did not have to work for more than a year.
“These were all very real people to us,” Noah said when sharing her experience in an emotionally charged presentation to the board.
“Some weekends, there were 100 new cases,” Noah said, describing the anguish she felt on Monday mornings during the darkest days of the pandemic. “How are we going to contact 100 more people to tell them, ‘You’re positive for covid.’ And when you open our paper this week, you’re going to see obituaries with names of people who died from covid. Every name that had died in our county was one that we had touched.”
Because those who tested positive were often quarantined to avoid the spread of the virus, the public health staff was in contact with many elderly people who died alone.
“The vaccine is what changed this,” Noah said. “Now, when I open the page to the obituaries, I don’t know those names. I don’t know those pictures.”
Resolution to relax rules
The county board also approved a resolution to continue allowing supervisors, staff, presenters and citizens to attend meetings remotely, even as it relaxed guidelines for social distancing and face masks.
All meetings will be live streamed and some will be posted on YouTube.
After technology upgrades are completed to maintain the live access and zooming capability, the county board will move back to its chamber on the main floor of the courthouse.
County board meetings are currently held in the basement in a room large enough to allow social distancing.
Covid numbers in Waupaca County have been on a downward trend for several months now.
As of July 1, there were a total of 6,119 covid cases in Waupaca County and 167 total deaths.