Barron County authorities issued a four-page document Thursday, May 14, 2020, in the aftermath of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision disallowing Gov. Tony Evers (by a directive to the Department of Health Services) to extend the state’s “Safer at Home” restrictions through May 26.
The court ruling “does not change the fact COVID-19 continues to circulate and pose a threat to the health of our community,” said a statement issued by the Barron County Department of Health and Human Services.
The statement urges everyone “to avoid situations that may put (them) at risk for becoming ill.
And, while the Safer at Home restrictions may have been lifted, “the (Barron County) public health officer may ban public gatherings when deemed necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics,” an authority granted by state statute, DHHS added.
The department said it drew up the guidelines with information taken from similar documents issued in Dunn and Walworth counties.
The new guidelines advise residents to:
• Avoid gathering in groups of more than 10, while maintaining at least six feet of distance between them and others.
• Refrain from traveling, and stay home unless necessary. The guideline includes “travel to second homes or residences” … and urges residents to contact authorities in other states if they plan to leave Wisconsin.
The guidelines take note of the fact that the state Department of Public Instruction continues to exercise its authority to keep schools closed. It also notes that visitors are still not allowed in long term care and assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.
The document also includes guidelines advising that employers “should … monitor staff for symptoms of COVID-19, allow employees to work from home whenever possible, and encourage workers to maintain social distancing and keep their hands clean.
The county will also expect employers to “cooperate with Public Health investigations related to COVID-19 confirmed or suspected cases related to the business operations.” The document said employers should “exclude employees based on public health recommendations, and assisting public health with identifying and contacting” other people with whom sick employees have contact.
The document also includes recommendations and/or guidelines for:
• Churches and other religious institutions.
• Child care providers.
• Attendance at or participation in organized sporting events.
• Summer school and summer camps which, DHHS said, is “strongly discouraged … at this time.”
• Large public events (such as fireworks displays, parades, fairs, festivals and concerts) which are also “strongly discourage(d).”
Indoor public venues are advised to “limit admission/seating to 25 percent of capacity. Outdoor event organizers are urged to guarantee physical distancing, “provide hand washing stations and/or hand sanitizers for staff, vendors and customers.”
County board discusses guidance
The Barron County Board of Supervisors met on Monday evening, May 18, and briefly discussed the new guidance by the county health department.
Board members and audience members were spread out in the auditorium in following with social distancing guidelines.
Some residents present were concerned that the board would be voting on a local version of the Safer at Home order.
Board Chair Louie Okey, Dist. 16, towns of Cedar Lake, Doyle and Oak Grove, said when the state’s order was first struck down, it was thought that the counties would have to create and enforce their own.
That was not the case, he said, and the guidance document was not an order. A countywide order would need approval by the board, but not guidance that everyone was asked to follow. Okey said it was “common sense” stuff and it was up to individual businesses and organizations to use it. A one-size-fits all approach was not appropriate, he said.
Barron County Administrator Jeff French noted there were capacity concerns if a huge outbreak occurred. The county had plans to take over Heritage Manor in Rice Lake for patients and could use the county’s fund balance—its rainy-day fund—if it had to respond to such an event.
Supervisor Bert Skinner, Dist. 28, Cumberland, asked if the county-owned campgrounds were open. French said they were and so were the public bathrooms, which were being cleaned often.
In a separate matter, the board considered repealing a previously approved county state of emergency declaration for COVID-19. Resolution 2020-11 was approved on April 21, and will expire on June 16.
This emergency declaration was not a Safer at Home order, but suspended board rules so they could meet via video chat and allowed the county’s COVID-19 response committee greater flexibility to respond to the pandemic.
French recommended the emergency order not be rescinded. A motion to not rescind the matter was made by Supervisor Dana Heller, Dist. 23, Rice Lake, and was seconded by Supervisor Gary Taxdahl, Dist. 8, Turtle Lake and town of Almena. It was approved unanimously.