BELOIT — Beloit businesses and residents will be required to open more slowly than what was announced Tuesday in a Rock County Public Health Department reopening plan due to a high concentration of COVID-19 cases in the city.
Public health officials announced guidelines for reopening Rock County on Tuesday, with the plan aimed at safely reopening businesses and services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county plan includes a three-phase approach for Rock County businesses and activities that are guided by health department data related to the spread of the virus. The current countywide order that has kept businesses closed is set to expire at 8 a.m. on Thursday.
The voluntary guidelines differ from an order approved by the Beloit City Council on Monday that includes more strict requirements for physical distancing and reopening due to a higher number of cases being reported in the Beloit area.
“Our goal is to keep our neighbors healthy,” said City Manager Lori Curtis Luther. “We understand and respect all of the sacrifices made by Beloit families during the last two months. We are all in this together, and we look forward to safely reopening our local economy while protecting those in our community who are vulnerable to COVID-19.”
As of Monday, 65% of all Rock County COVID-19 cases were reported in Beloit. Forty-eight percent of all Rock County cases are of people of Hispanic or Latino origin, while just 9% of the county population is Hispanic or Latino, according to the Rock County Public Health Department.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the council’s action on Monday would ensure a “smoother transition” for residents and avoid potential confusion.
“We know we cannot live under orders forever and that soon we’re going to have to begin to trust each other to make the right decisions on physical distancing and other measures to keep us all safe,” Smith said.
The Beloit order remains in place until June 2, with the council to revisit the order at its June 1 meeting.
It requires any buildings or spaces that are open to the public to meet public health practices including the requirement of six-feet of physical distancing; requiring all individuals in the city comply with physical distancing while in public, or face a potential civil citation.
The order encourages residents to avoid nonessential travel and “strongly discourages” mass gatherings of 25 people or more. Mass gatherings at city-owned properties will be prohibited. Any gathering must comply with public health protocols outlined by the order.
The use of masks or cloth face coverings is “strongly recommended,” but will not be required.
For more information on the Beloit order, visit beloitwi.gov under the Coronavirus tab on the home page.
Public Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval announced the guidance suggests libraries, houses of worship, restaurants and retail stores and others can reopen to allow up to 25% capacity with social distancing rules in place.
“We have to be nimble,” Sandoval said. “We have to be able to step back, step up and adjust as we go…We have goals with benchmarks. We have a guide based on progress and setbacks. This is to take baby steps. You know, we have to be able to walk before we can run.”
The recommendations rely on COVID-19 testing availability, daily percentage rates of new positive cases, hospital capacity and equipment availability, along with myriad other factors tied to moving into the next two phases.
Data will be evaluated on a two-week timeline for revisiting the guidelines and potentially moving forward. If conditions in the county worsen, Sandoval said, a public health order could once again be issued to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While county health officials conceded the guidance would not be mandatory, Sandoval said residents and business owners should take responsibility to help keep the community safe.
“Everybody needs to do their part for this to be successful,” Sandoval said.
The Rock County guidelines come from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For information on the Rock County guidance plan, visit co.rock.wi.us/publichealth.