MADISON, Wis — Wisconsin health officials urged residents Tuesday to avoid non-essential travel following confirmation that the two latest people in the state who tested positive for COVID-19 had recently visited areas where the coronavirus is more widespread.
The warning came as schools and universities headed into spring break season, when many students and families were planning to go on vacation.
“We ask that you inform yourself and use your own best judgment about travel," said Jeanne Ayers, state health officer, in a conference call with reporters. “We know this is happening in the world, we know it’s happening in the country. We expect this outbreak to reach Wisconsin.”
The first person who tested positive for the virus lives in Dane County and contracted it in China after traveling there in late January. That person has fully recovered, health officials said.
The second and third who tested positive were announced late Monday and Tuesday. One is from Pierce County in western Wisconsin along the Minnesota border and the other is from Dane County, which is home to the state capital of Madison and the University of Wisconsin's flagship campus. Both had traveled to areas in the United States where the virus is more widespread, health officials said. They would not identify specifically where they had been, but both were in isolation after testing positive.
Seattle is the most hard-hit part of the country, with at least 22 deaths, but there are other pockets of the country where the virus is spreading, including New York City, Northern California and parts of Florida, Ayers said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
Before testing positive, the Pierce County patient attended an event Saturday at Osceola High School, leading the district to cancel all of its classes on Tuesday for a deep clean.
The school was closed “out of an abundance of caution,” said Traci DeSalvo, head of Wisconsin's communicable diseases epidemiology section. She said the risk to attendees at the Destination Imagination tournament, which drew more than 100 teams from 21 countries, is low. But the local health department is working to identify and contact anyone who is determined to be at a higher risk, she said.
The Osceola district was the first in Wisconsin to cancel classes because of the virus.
Dane County health officials were working to determine who has been in contact with the third person to test positive so they can be isolated, quarantined and tested.
The Madison school district, Wisconsin's second largest and located in Dane County, said Tuesday it was banning out-of-state district-related travel for all staff and students. That includes travel for meetings, conferences, field trips or any other events.
On Monday, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said UW-Madison was canceling and suspending all university-sponsored travel, including spring break trips, to countries severely affected by the virus. Those countries are China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Spain, but Blank cautioned that the list is likely to expand.
Blank urged faculty, staff and students not to travel outside of Dane County during the school's spring break, which begins Saturday and runs through March 22.
Anyone returning to campus from an area that has a Level 3 travel warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be allowed to return to work at UW-Madison and must remain self-isolated for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, Blank said. Everyone returning from spring break outside of Madison are required to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, she said.