Coronavirus info czar

(First published in the March 19, 2020 issue of City Pages)

Judy Burrows is the point person when local people have questions about handling COVID-19 warnings, mandates and data


Judy Burrows is the Coronavirus Public Information Officer at the Marathon County Health Department.

Public health efforts to curtail the coronavirus pandemic has prompted the closure or cutback of schools, businesses, events and even churches across the Wisconsin and the nation this week. That includes restaurants and bars, which were ordered closed (except for carryout) under an order from Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, leaving business owners without revenue and many employees without income. Other crucial services such as hospitals and grocery stores, are exempt.

The state mandate on public gatherings could be confusing. People had a lot of questions. And many of those fell to Judy Burrows, who has been designated the COVID-19 (coronavirus) Public Health Information Officer at the Marathon County Health Department. Plenty of people have been calling her seeking answers.

Burrows says the department yesterday took a ton of calls from owners of restaurants and other businesses asking about the governor’s order banning most public gatherings of more than 10 people.

“The order really locked down a lot of businesses, a lot of restaurants closed down,” Burrows says.

About every other call was from employers asking about employee symptoms and how to handle it. The answer: Since without testing it’s hard to discern if an illness is COVID-19 or a flu or cold, best to just go home.

“Good infection control measures are sick employees staying home,” Burrows says. Burrows stepped into the public information role on March 9, but otherwise works as the health department’s program director for Community Health Improvement. And she has acted as a PIO before, such as for H1N1.

As of March 18, there were 106 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. That’s up from 72 on Tuesday, 47 on Monday, and 27 on Saturday, according to the Department of Health Services. The closest confirmed case to the Wausau area is in Wood County, which has one confirmed case. DHS has been providing daily updates at 2 pm.

The county health department will be notified if a confirmed case occurs in Marathon County, Burrows tells City Pages. People are being tested here by area health providers and the swabs are sent to labs for testing, Burrows says. If a case is confirmed by those labs, the state health department and the county health department will be notified. Should that happen, county health officers will conduct a contact investigation, interviewing everyone the person had contact with to ensure it doesn’t spread.

One local pathologist told City Pages that not enough testing kits are available for labs to keep up with testing.

Social distancing is an important way to slow the spread of the disease, which experts say will be around for months — it’s not something that is going to go away overnight. Covering your mouth when you cough, washing hands and using hand sanitizer are all ways to help limit the spread.

Symptoms are very similar to the flu, Burrows says, and if someone has those symptoms they should call their health care provider first — each provider might have its own protocol for how to test their patients, especially ones who might have the coronavirus.

Evers on Thursday declared a state of emergency because of the communicable disease, and canceled K-12 in person classes over the weekend. On Monday Evers ordered gatherings of 50 or more people prohibited, and on Tuesday upgraded that prohibition to 10 or more, with restaurants and bars ordered to close (restaurants can still offer takeout). The governor also issued an order allowing the DOT to issue relief supply permits for items related to the coronavirus for grocery retailers, and DOT secretary Craig Thompson ordered the Wisconsin State Patrol to assist with transporting testing kits. The Wisconsin National Guard was mobilized to help bring 29 Grand Princess cruise ship passengers back to their homes in Wisconsin.

At the local government level, municipal buildings are shutting their doors to the public outside of allowing voting and considering ways in order to hold meetings via teleconferences. Many have been canceled, such as a city of Wausau public information meeting on the sewer and water plant upgrades that was supposed to have been held Wednesday.