Altoona resident, Hillarie Roth, tested positive for COVID-19 in late September and was sick with the virus for three weeks. At one point she had to visit the emergency room because she was so ill. (Photo by Julian Emerson)
Altoona resident, Hillarie Roth, tested positive for COVID-19 in late September and was sick with the virus for three weeks. At one point she had to visit the emergency room because she was so ill. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Family’s recover comes as Wisconsin sees a record 2,003 people hospitalized with the Coronavirus Monday, testing the capacity of hospitals statewide.

As she lay in bed a month ago, a nonstop cough searing her lungs and fever raging through her body, Hillarie Roth began to question her future. 

Nearly two weeks earlier Roth, 42, of Altoona, had started to feel ill. The next morning she awoke with a 102-degree fever. Her body ached. She felt sick to her stomach. A test showed she was positive for COVID-19. 

Roth felt terrible for a few days, her body aches becoming worse. She couldn’t stop coughing, and her fever would not relent. Then the illness seemed to let up, and Roth figured she was on the road to recovery.

But she wasn’t. 

After several more days her symptoms returned, redoubled in their severity. Her cough grew worse, becoming so forceful and frequent it caused a hiatal hernia. Her fever would not let up, prompting continuous hot-and-cold flashes. Her nausea was so intense she struggled to eat anything. 

On Oct. 10, her family brought Roth to the emergency department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. She had heard stories about COVID-19 wracking people’s bodies, about people suddenly taking a turn for the worse, and dying from the virus. She wondered if she would be among them.  

“We were worried I might be getting pneumonia,” Roth recalled Monday. “I was really worried about where this was leading, if I was ever going to come out of this.”

Roth is among a rapidly rising number of Wisconsin residents contracting the coronavirus, but thankfully she did not require hospitalization because of her illness. 

On Monday, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported a record number of 2,003 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, with 396 of those patients in an intensive care unit.

Those rising numbers are stretching the resources of hospitals across Wisconsin. Many of them report a lack of bed space to treat patients infected with the virus, and staffing shortages because of exposure to the virus are commonplace.  

Between Sunday and Monday 4,360 people in the state tested positive for the contagious, deadly virus, according to state Department of Health Services figures. That figure follows 4,280 new cases reported on Sunday. 

The seven-day average for virus cases is 5,639, including the lower figures for Sunday and Monday. On Saturday a one-day record 7,065 cases were reported.

Those totals are much higher than a couple of weeks ago but are lower than daily new cases reported last week as Sunday and Monday numbers typically are lower than other days of the week because of lower testing on those days. 

Also on Monday, 17 new deaths were reported statewide, bringing the total number of Wisonsinites who have died from COVID-19 to 2,329. There are now more than 59,000 active cases of the virus in the state.

Like the number of new cases, the positivity rate of the virus has risen dramatically in recent weeks as well, another sign of virus spread. On Monday, that figure was 31%, and was 34.4% for the past seven days.  

Statewide, 10% of the 271,770 positive virus cases have occurred during the past week, a sign of the fast-rising disease spread. 

Hillarie Roth and 13-year-old daughter Rebecca discuss history coursework on Monday at their home in Altoona. Roth, Rebecca, Roth’s other daughter Alyssa, and her husband contracted COVID-19 in September. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

As COVID-19 continues to surge across Wisconsin, public health officials and others are urging people to wear masks in public, practice social distancing, refrain from gathering with others, and getting tested if they exhibit virus symptoms. 

On Monday the Dunn County Community Recovery Team, designed to address COVID-19 in that county, issued a news release that included “an urgent call to immediate action” for people to take part in practices intended to slow the spread of the virus. 

Between last Monday and Friday 255 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Dunn County, and that total continues to climb. 

“For various reasons, the only way it appears we will be able to stem the spread of this virus is for each member of the community to exercise personal responsibility,” said Doug Mell, a spokesman for the group. “Right now we really need everybody to wear a mask and take part in other behaviors that will slow the spread of the virus.”

To curb spread of the virus, additional COVID-19 testing is happening across the state. UW System schools recently announced an antigen testing program for college students, faculty and community members. In addition, Wisconsin National Guard members are staffing more 74 testing sites. 

Roth knows firsthand about the perils of further virus spread. The rest of her family, including her husband Dean and daughters Rebecca, 13, and Alyssa, 15, also tested positive. They have since recovered and had much milder versions of the illness than their mother. 

Despite having been free of COVID-19 symptoms for the past three weeks, Roth still experiences a lingering cough and periodic shortness of breath. Nodules have formed on her lungs since contracting the virus, and on Tuesday she sees a doctor to inspect them further. 

“I still haven’t had that moment yet,” Roth said when asked about experiencing a feeling of relief after recovering from COVID-19. “I still have those nodules in my lungs, still have that shortness of breath. I still fear the ramifications of this virus.”

In the days before testing positive for the virus, Roth recalls attending two very different meetings. At one of them she said she was the only person wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. Several others at that meeting subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. 

The other meeting involved a similar number of people, but they all donned masks and maintained distance from each other in a ventilated space. None have since contracted the virus, she said. 

“I truly was the person who thought that we’re a young family, and if we get (COVID-19) we’ll be fine,” Roth said. “Now that I’ve had it, I never want this virus again. It was terrible, and it was scary. It still is. Please take this seriously.”