Wisconsin DHS: 334 COVID-19 cases linked to long-term care facilities, along with 74 deaths

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released new data Wednesday, April 22 showing more than 300 positive cases of COVID-19 linked to long-term care facilities, along with 74 deaths. However, this data may not tell the whole story.

On Sunday, April 19, President Donald Trump's administration announced new guidelines requiring nursing homes nationwide to report to patients, their families and the federal government when they have cases of coronavirus -- within a 12-hour window. Previously, Wisconsin DHS officials said they were unable to release a list of facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying it's up to officials at each facility or the county to release that, if at all.

Wisconsin DHS officials reported 334 cases of COVID-19 linked to long-term care facilities, along with 74 deaths, as of Wednesday, April 22. DHS officials noted it wasn't until April 8 that the question of whether a patient lived in a group or congregate setting became part of patient forms.

Kirsten Johnson

"I think this is great that they are starting to track this data," said Kirsten Johnson, Washington Ozaukee health officer.

Johnson noted the data provided by DHS may not tell the whole story.

"We had cases in long-term care facilities as early as March 17, and my concern is those individuals... aren't captured," said Johnson.

Data shows more than 2,500 COVID-19 cases have been categorized with an "unknown" source. DHS officials said officials at long-term care facilities have been asked to go back and enter the required information, but said under the circumstances, many are too busy to do this. DHS officials did note that they believe the majority of cases listed as "unknown" are not from a "congregate setting."

"I think it's a best practice to be transparent," said Johnson.

The names of facilities with confirmed cases have not been released.

Perhaps the most transparent long-term care facility has been Village Pointe Commons in Grafton. They had one of the first COVID-19 deaths in the state. Johnson said Wednesday that outbreak has been resolved.

"We were able to work very closely with them," said Johnson. "They were very upfront with staff, families and residents."

In early April, the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department began making information on outbreaks in long-term care facilities and other gathering places public through an online database. This, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, promote a culture of transparency and honesty and "help us return to normal life as quickly as possible."