MADISON, Wis. — Two population health studies in Wisconsin are being launched to better understand where COVID-19 is in the state, identify communities at risk for a future outbreak and help prevent the spread of the virus, the state Department of Health Services announced Wednesday.
The first study will be led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, also known as SHOW. It will determine the prevalence of people who have COVID-19 antibodies. The presence of antibodies indicates that a person had COVID-19 in the past, perhaps without realizing it.
People who have participated in past SHOW research will be chosen from 10 randomly selected counties and the city of Milwaukee to form a representative state sample, said the group's director, Kristen Malecki.
The second study will test samples from wastewater treatment facilities, in both urban and rural areas, to determine the current concentration levels of virus genetic material found in sewage.
The water testing can help health officials identify where and to what extent COVID-19 is circulating within a community and can help them minimize its transmission, the state health department said.
The survey is designed to help communities deal with potential surges in cases, not to replace existing public health surveillance, said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, chief medical officer for the state health department's Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health.
The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on that study.
Both of the newly announced surveys are scheduled to last a year.
There had been 712 deaths in Wisconsin attributed to COVID-19 and nearly 23,500 confirmed cases as of Wednesday. Of those who contracted the virus, 75% had recovered and 3% died, the health department said. About 2.6% of test results reported Wednesday were positive, continuing a downward trend over the past two weeks.
Meiman said that although the trends in Wisconsin were positive, it was imperative for people to wear masks when out in public, maintain a social distance and take necessary steps to protect people in the workforce.
"We're not done until we're highly confident we have this contained," he said.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers announced that K-12 schools would receive $46 million and the University of Wisconsin and other colleges and universities will share $37 million to help address losses caused by the pandemic. The funding comes from the federal relief bill, which has already provided about $354 million to K-12 schools and universities in the state.
Evers said he hoped the money would help address expenses already incurred and to pay for "further creative efforts to transition between in-person learning and distance learning seamlessly as we prepare for the upcoming fall semester."
The money for K-12 schools will prioritize students and districts that have the highest remote learning needs and have been the most significantly affected by the pandemic, Evers said. He said more details about who will receive the funding would be released later.
The money for colleges and universities was based on a formula in the federal law that was largely based on the number of Pell Grant recipients at each school.