Washington Co. health officials link multiple COVID-19 cases to pair who attended out-of-state event

WEST BEND -- If a road will get you through Washington County, health officials there are finding their route to one of the sources of COVID-19.

Kirsten Johnson

"It's fascinating to be able to trace all of this. It's like a mystery," said Kirsten Johnson, health officer with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department.

The mystery began unraveling as Johnson and her team began tracing clusters of positive cases. Online records indicate several came from a Washington County church.

"As we traced all these people it came back to Patient Zero.  She was sick first," Johnson said.

That Patient Zero -- and Patient 1 -- attended an event in Illinois. Then, they attended an event at Full Gospel Church in West Bend.

"We realized after we had a number of positive patients that these people were linked back to this event," said Johnson.

That list included Patient 2 through Patient 7 -- many of whom were not showing symptoms and went to work.

"Patient 5 went to work, in a healthcare facility, worked with Patients 10, 11, 12 who are also healthcare workers," Johnson said. "These workers subsequently had additional jobs at other healthcare facilities which then became outbreaks themselves. From that you can see the number of people that became infected."

Their route hit a detour Patient 2 who didn't share anyone else they'd been in contact with.

"The only way we can do contact tracing is if people disclose to us where they've been and who they've been in contact with," Johnson said.

She also said that there are likely "many" Patient Zeroes: "We realized we had to have really strong contact tracing so that we could go back and slow these things down."

In Washington and Ozaukee Counties, there have been 12 deaths related to the coronavirus -- many of them in long-term care facilities.

Disease tracing has almost eliminated a risk at a Grafton facility that has had several deaths, but as more people get COVID-19 through community spread, it became increasingly difficult to trace back to a source.