ROCK COUNTY, Wis.—A local task force will help craft a safe plan for reopening businesses and services in Rock County following a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that overturned the current stay at home order in Wisconsin.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said Rock County remains one of the top counties in Wisconsin for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita, also citing a New York Times analysis published earlier this month that ranked the Rock County Area in the top 10 nationally for increased risk of a spike in cases and deaths.
Smith said the county would ask representatives of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to develop a unified reopening approach that’s specific to Rock County based on local virus data.
“Our goal is to have this guidance approved and in place to be able to remove the County Safer-at-Home order by May 26, if not sooner,” Smith said.
Residents of Rock and Green counties will still be required to follow Safer At Home guidelines even after the supreme court ruling on Wednesday. Walworth County, on the other hand, decided against extending stay at home rules.
The Rock County Public Health Department order issued late Wednesday declares enforcement of Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer At Home order will remain in place until at least 8 a.m. on May 26, when the statewide order was originally set to expire.
Rock County Public Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval said the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was through state action.
“That has not occurred, and therefore it is reasonable and necessary to take local actions pursuant to the authority vested in the Local Public Health Officer,” Sandoval wrote in the order. “As the rate of transmission declines, it may be advisable and safe to ‘open back up’ consistent with the Badger Bounce Back plan, local data and modeling, and in a way consistent with and implemented by Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Emergency Orders #34 and #36, ‘Interim Order to Turn the Dial’.”
Retail businesses in Rock County will still be able to remain open and allow five customers at a time, in line with the statewide Badger Bounce Back Plan.
Violation of the local orders is punishable by a citation, according to a memo issued on Thursday by the county. In the clarifying memo, it is noted that criminal prosecution of an individual for violating a public health order “is inappropriate.” Citations could range from $30 to $200, the memo said.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office took action on Thursday to close a Beloit bar that had resisted the local order.
The state supreme court voted 4-3 to overturn the extension of the Safer At Home order issued by Evers that had been in place since late March and was extended by DHS Secretary Designee Andrea Palm.
An identical order is also in place until May 26 in Green County, while Walworth County did not issue a stay-at-home order. The Walworth Public Health Department issued reopening guidelines for businesses on Thursday.
“We have faith in our business leaders and believe they will follow these guidelines and implement strategies to protect their customers and staff,” said Walworth County Public Health Officer Erica Bergstrom.
Bergstrom said that the threat of COVID-19 will extend beyond May 26.
“As such, short-term public health orders are not likely to have a significant lasting impact,” Bergstrom said. “Any effective solution will be dependent upon individuals and businesses making personal decisions to proactively protect themselves, their guests, and their customers.”
Walworth County officials advise residents follow basic hygiene including hand washing; staying home when sick; practicing social distancing; covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding touching your face, the memo said.
For more information on the Walworth County guidelines, visit co.walworth.wi.us/856/COVID-19.
The City of Lake Geneva issued a proclamation on Thursday encouraging residents to comply with social distancing and limiting travel until May 26.
Following the ruling, Evers said the move endangers residents going forward.
“We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel, because folks, deadly viruses don’t wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules,” Evers said.
As of Thursday, a total of 393 confirmed virus cases and 14 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in Rock County, while Green County reported 39 cases and no deaths due to COVID-19, according to DHS data.
Local legislators in Beloit are starkly split along partisan lines following the supreme court action.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said he was “extremely disappointed” the court decided to “play partisan games with the lives of Wisconsinites.”
“This is devastating in light of the tremendous progress we have been making to thwart COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Spreitzer said. “Five of the six criteria for ending the Safer at Home Order and moving to Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back Plan were met for the first time (on Tuesday). Now, with no guiding plan, we risk losing that progress.”
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said the ruling “will allow everyone to have a voice in how Wisconsin handles pandemics not just one unelected person.”
“Absent a statewide “Safer at Home Order”, individual actions and personal responsibility will remain paramount in how our citizens and their families choose to conduct and protect themselves going forward,” Loudenbeck said. “Everyone can, and should continue to follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, regularly sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, and staying home when sick. This order does not promote people to act in a way that they believe endangers their health.”