The State Emergency Operations Center has brought together government leaders with some of the best and brightest minds in business and technology – all Wisconsinites – to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. There are Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) doctors, nurses, and public health professions, other staff from across Wisconsin state government working alongside health care system partners, leaders from Epic Systems, the Wisconsin Emergency Management, and the National Guard working together to tackle the challenges we face during the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin. Teams at the State Emergency Operations Center are creating and implementing plans on important topics like essential supplies, contact tracing, and lab capacity, in an ever-changing situation.
Having a robust laboratory testing infrastructure in place is an integral component to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Engaging with our public and private partners, we have increased our daily lab capacity. By working with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab network, as of April 21 now have 48 active labs conducting COVID-19 testing. The State Emergency Operations Center has established a mechanism for labs to report supply shortages in testing materials and other barriers to expansion so that our state can procure those supplies to maintain and augment their capacity. The state has revised its recommended testing criteria to expand access to testing; however, Wisconsinites seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor.
Once someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is essential that the individuals they have had contact with are identified in order to help prevent further spread of the virus. This is why the State Emergency Operations Center has worked with local public health departments to build a network of contact tracers who are tasked with interviewing every person confirmed with COVID-19. As of April 21, 2020, the State Emergency Operations Center has been able to train nearly 400 contact tracers to support local health departments in their work to identify potential COVID-19 exposures and help them follow appropriate isolation or quarantine guidance reducing the further spread of COVID-19.
What to expect when you get the call from a contact tracer
Unfortunately, with any major event there are always bad actors who want to take advantage of the situation. DHS wants you to feel comfortable if you get a call from one of our contact tracers. Here’s what to expect:
- Our staff will always identify themselves as representatives of state or local public health departments and verify who they are talking with on the call - before they even begin to talk about contact tracing.
- Once they verify who they are speaking with is the right person – they will explain why they are calling – and only then.
- While our contact tracer will say you have been exposed, they won’t identify the person they were in contact with or where it might have happened.
Here are the things they will ask you for:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your phone
- Your email
- Your gender
- Your race/ethnicity
- Whether you have any symptoms
The contact tracer will go through quarantine recommendations and sign you up for self-monitoring.
We will never ask you for credit card, bank account numbers, or social security numbers. We would never send you a text with a link to click.
All contact tracing team members have received training in and demonstrated understanding of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System (WEDSS). WEDSS is the secure system that handles the reporting, investigation, and monitoring of the information we receive.
Health care capacity
Partnering with health care facilities across the state, the State Emergency Operations Center has assessed current capacity and worked to address any projected needs to ensure they have the space, supplies, and staff to provide the vital services needed to address the pandemic. The State Emergency Operations Center has provided guidance for health care facilities to plan for how they might be able to create additional capacity in their local communities.
On April 10, the State Emergency Operations Center coordinated a mass call for volunteers with Governor Evers. Anybody who is interested in volunteering to support health care facilities can sign up through the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry (WEAVR), which the State Emergency Operations Center will use to match available workers with staffing opportunities across the state. Since the April 10 announcement, more than 3,000 people have added themselves to the WEAVR database. The State Emergency Operations Center is collaborating with the Staff Augmentation Strike Team to establish an ongoing coordinator for filling staffing requests.
Alternate care facilities are part of our state’s on-going continuum of care being provided to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. A partnership with FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Wisconsin National Guard, local health systems, and emergency management, Wisconsin currently has two alternate care facilities in Southeastern Wisconsin. One is operated by the State of Wisconsin at Wisconsin State Fair Park and the other is operated by Milwaukee County at the Milwaukee House of Corrections. As a state-operated facility that serves eligible health systems outside of the Milwaukee-area, all eligible hospitals or other acute care entities have the ability to send their patients to the Wisconsin State Fair Park alternate care facility. There are frequently asked questions available that provide more information about the Wisconsin State Fair Park alternate care facility.
Because the end of the pandemic remains unknown, there are currently no plans to repurpose or decommission the facility. The following organizations or individuals will be regularly reviewing data and health care system needs (both regionally and statewide), to determine if and when alternate care facilities can be safely decommissioned:
- Wisconsin Department of Administration
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services
- Alternate care facility leadership team
- Local emergency operations groups
- Other local and state health officials identified by these abovementioned individuals and groups
The State Emergency Operations center has opened two facilities to support safe isolation in Milwaukee and Dane counties. To support the isolation needs across the state, there is a toolkit for local teams so they can pursue additional isolation facilities managed at the local level. Several communities around the state have already used this toolkit to establish their own operations. The State Emergency Operations Center continues to encourage health care providers and local health departments to refer eligible occupants to these available facilities.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies
Many medical and public safety professionals are now serving on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing them with the equipment they need to help keep our communities safe and healthy has been an important part of our work. Since March, the State Emergency Operations Center has worked with the public and private sector to acquire critical resources, such as PPE, for our frontline responders. The State Emergency Operations Center have worked to obtain PPE through multiple avenues. These have included accessing the Strategic National Stockpile as well as launching the PPE donation and buyback website on March 26. This program provides companies, educational facilities, and other organizations the opportunity to sell or donate supplies towards our COVID-19 response.
As of April 21, we have distributed over 162,000 N95 masks, 5.4 million medical and surgical masks, 315,000 gowns and 148,000 face shields and goggles in addition to other essential supplies to our health care workers, long-term care facilities, public safety, and other state and county agencies. The State Emergency Operations Center continues to work with vendors across the world to support Wisconsin’s ongoing need for PPE and other essential supplies. Six regional distribution centers have been established to assist with the timely distribution of these essential supplies. The State Emergency Operations Center is also working to expand our local production capacity by partnering with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to assist Wisconsin businesses that have expressed an interest in retooling their operations to manufacture critical COVID-19 supplies.
Essential worker child care
In collaboration with the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the State Emergency Operations Center launched a survey of health care, first responder, public safety, and other workers critical to the COVID-19 response to assess child care needs. Based on the information gathered from this survey, the Department of Children and Families began redesigning the data systems used to track both the need for child care and the available child care across the state. The Department of Children and Families website now offers an online form for critical workers to request care, an interactive map displaying real-time available child care, and a process for providers to indicate their availability. Thanks to these resources and the work of child care facilities across the state, the Department of Children and Families has been able to help with over 1,500 requests for kids, covering over 2,700 children. As the Department of Children and Families continues our work, our focus will be to continue the use of guidance and rule flexibility to assist child care providers in keeping themselves and the families they serve healthy. This includes planning for the potential need to open additional child care for critical workers, either on-site or nearby, as well as partnering with community organizations to provide care for school-aged children should it be needed. The Department of Children and Families continues to collaborate with the Supporting Families Together Association and the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association in this work.
Data is essential in making policy decisions about COVID-19. That is why the State Emergency Operations Center has worked to collect the most accurate data possible to inform our modeling. This has involved collaborating with medical facilities across the state as well as Epic Systems to capture the most complete data we can on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In the interest of public health, the State Emergency Operations Center and Department of Health Services have tried to be as transparent as possible with our data while also protecting private health information.
The State Emergency Operations Center and Department of Health Services use the data we collect to make informed policy decisions about COVID-19. The data and models tell us that the policies are working to flatten the curve. The State Emergency Operations Center and Department of Health Services have also made our data available to the public to ensure they can follow along as we make these policy decisions.