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Cases trickling into La Crosse’s senior-care facilities, COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths could be on horizon

Rick Solem



Stakeholders take part in a Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative public briefing Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, led by La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski (top-right), along with (clockwise) Libby Weber (The Weber Group), Dr. Aaron Engel (La Crosse School District Superintendent), Dr. Elizabeth Cogbill (Gundersen Health System) and sign language interpreter Collen Cudo.

The talk lately with COVID-19 in the La Crosse community has hovered around an increase in cases.

Which makes sense, when La Crosse is No. 1 on the New York Times list for fastest rising cases and 16th for greatest number of new cases in the U.S., and the state just blew away its single-day record for cases Thursday at 2,034.

A lot of the reasoning points to colleges returning students on campus. 

Throughout the pandemic, La Crosse County and surrounding communities — save for Winona County’s 18 deaths — have done fairly well. La Crosse County has had 64 total hospitalizations and two deaths. 

During a press briefing Thursday from stakeholders in the Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative — the first briefing since Aug. 21 — La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski was asked if the area’s rise in cases lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

“We aren’t seeing drastic changes there yet but we also know that hospitalization rates typically are a couple of weeks behind rate increases like this, especially in a population that’s generally health,” she said. “It is very hard to project exactly what will happen, but there is concern.”

“I do think there is concern about increased hospitalizations in the next few weeks. I also do think that the potential for deaths in our community members is definitely there, depending upon whether or not we can take action now, to reduce the spread and contain where it is right now.”


Dr. Elizabeth Cogbill, who works with geriatrics and Internal Medicine at Gundersen Health System, said La Crosse senior-living facilities have done outstanding keeping residents there safe. But, with a rise in cases — La Crosse County is averaging 104 a day the past week — COVID-19 is trickling into those facilities.


“Cases in our long-term care facilities, those have been pretty low as well, up until now,” Cogbill said. 

Even if it’s not residents, per say, the community spread does affect those facilities.

“Over this past weekend we had a couple facilities that had more than 20 staff who were immediately pulled from work to quarantine because they were a close contact or they were positive for COVID,” Cogbill said. “So every staff member who is a high-risk exposure or who is instructed to quarantine or is a close contact, is out of work for that period of time and that downstream impact of that is they’re not serving our older adults in the facilities.”

Cogbill noted that nationally 8 of 10 Covid-19 related deaths are people 65 years and older.


Over the summer, the La Crosse School District took the precaution with COVID-19 to hold off on bringing students back into the classroom for the first month. 


Well, that month is winding down, but cases in La Crosse County are ramping up.

“As long as the conditions in the community continue to stay at this really high level, we’re not going to safely return students and staff to school,” La Crosse Schools superintendent, Dr. Aaron Engel said. “

Engel added that, despite not having students in schools yet, the case rise is affecting supplemental child care programs and daytime services.

“And we’ve had cases in our school district already of children who have tested positive,” Engel added. “So, it’s coming to our schools, and it’s here, even though that largest group that’s affected right now is that 20 to 29 year old group.”

Engel added that the sooner the area can get the recent rise in COVID-19 spread under control, they can get students back in the classroom.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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    September 25, 2020 at 8:13 am

    I’m not surprised by these numbers, to be honest. Cases are trending upward nationwide, even in places that were believed to have “beaten” the virus. My urgent care center (https://rockymountainurgentcare.com/locations/aurora/) has been seeing way more testing than usual in recent weeks.

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