What is a public health investigation? Brown County Public Health explains


GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Multiple Green Bay area businesses announced temporary closures after employees were potentially exposed to or tested positive for coronavirus. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, if two confirmed cases of coronavirus are connecting to a facility that isn’t a long-term care facility will activate a public health investigation – but what does that mean?

Claire Paprocki, Public Health Strategist for Brown County Public Health, says that while it seems like a simple question, the answer is a little more complicated.

Cranky Pat’s Pizza, Hilly Haven Golf Course, Kittner’s are among those businesses that temporarily closed. In a Facebook post, Cranky Pat’s recommended anyone who had visited the restaurant within the last week to get tested for coronavirus.

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Paprocki says that the need to get tested after an incident like this depends on the interactions that occurred at locations and can vary from restaurant to restaurant.

“The more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Paprocki says. She outlined the risk of COVID-19 spreading in restaurants or bars:

  • Lowest Risk: Food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pickup.
  • More Risk: Drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pickup emphasized. On-site dining limited to outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Even More Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity reduced to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Highest Risk: On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating. Seating capacity not reduced and tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart.

She went on to say that if a customer was wearing a mask, only gathering with individuals in their household or living unit, and following proper physical-distancing guidelines, their risk should remain relatively low.

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The mitigation or prevention strategies the business has in place can also contribute to the risk of the virus spreading. Paprocki says examples of this include:

  • Are the employees wearing masks?
  • Are they following proper hand-hygiene and respiratory etiquette?
  • Are staff being routinely monitored and checked for symptoms before their shift?
  • How is the physical set-up of the restaurant? Are tables spaced six-feet apart? Are the operating at full capacity or are they limiting the number of patrons to reduce the risk of spread?

Paprocki says Brown County Public Health is encouraging employees and patrons at all bars and patrons to follow the guidelines and recommendations set forth by the CDC, which can be found here.

“We also recommend the general public call a restaurant/ bar before choosing to eat there. Ask what preventive/safety measures they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. Based on what precautions they are taking, community members can assess their own risk and then act accordingly,” she adds.

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In terms of Public Health investigations, Paprocki says they are determined on a case-by-case basis. She explains that some businesses have reached out to public health officials to request a site visit to review administrative controls, protocols, recommendations, employee check-in procedures, compliance, and other mitigation strategies.

Paprocki adds that if a complaint is submitted with Public Health in regards to a business, officials will continue to monitor the situation.

“If a complaint is lodged with Public Health regarding an entity, Public Health takes the complaint and will continue to monitor. If there are multiple complaints regarding a particular entity, then Public Health would contact the entity to go over what mitigation strategies they have in place, sort out the facts from the information gathered through complaints and interviews, and provide education and suggestions.”

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In Brown County, Paprocki says both DHS and CDC have been involved with providing guidance and recommendations to local businesses and facilities. As of June 17, DHS reports there are 89 active public health investigations within Brown County:

  • Long-term care facilities: 20
  • Non-health care workplaces: 54
  • Group housing: 4
  • Health care facilities: 3
  • Other: 8

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