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County approved Sunday rally

The Marathon County Health Department and Sheriff Scott Parks agreed to allow IROW owner Cory Tomczyk hold a “safer at home” protest rally on his property on Sunday after being given assurances last week that the outdoor event would include social distancing.

“I received an opinion from our Corporation Counsel [Scott Corbett] that stated the event was apparently an outdoor activity and, as long as social distancing is maintained, the event could occur,” said Judy Burrows, health department public information officer. “Consideration was given to the regulation of speech and assembly.”

Sheriff Parks said Tomczyk provided plans for the rally that included meeting the governor’s requirements for social distancing.

The sheriff said the governor himself has in a press conference said citizens retain the right to peaceable assembly as long as social distancing rules are followed.

SUNDAY RALLY “I feel the governor understands the need for peaceful assembly and protests as an opportunity for citizens to be heard on their opinions,” he said. “Our forefathers deemed that to be a constitutional right for all.”

The IROW rally, held in a parking lot, had many more participants than Tomczyk told the crowd he had expected. Rally goers stood pretty much next to each other for two hours. Social distancing calls for a six foot area of separation between people. That rule was not followed, nor did Tomczyk ask people to observe social distance. Instead, he told rally goers they were on his property at their own risk.

Both the sheriff and the health department said they are attempting to enforce Gov. Evers’ orders while, at the same time, being sensitive to people who have lost jobs or have had a business shut its doors.

“We have been part of directing individuals to be isolated,” Sheriff Parks said. “We have been involved with requesting those businesses deemed non-essential to close. Note the word... requesting. The word is key because the businesses we spoke with complied without having to be ordered by me to do so.”

Burrows said the health department, too, is trying to keep citizens safe while being sensitive to people’s economic needs.

“The health department has been and will continue to do what it can to support local businesses,” she said. “ Our intention is to control the spread of the virus. We realize Safer at Home has had serious impacts to local businesses.”

At the rally, former local congressman Sean Duffy said it should be up to county boards, not the governor, to determine whether non-essential businesses stay open or shut.

Burrows said the health department does not endorse this idea.

“The virus will not observe a physical boundary (county or a state line) and will happily infect any host available,” she said. “There are many challenges when written policies have physical boundaries.”

Burrows said rural counties don’t necessarily have protection against COVID- 19 because they have fewer people. She noted that Clark County, which is a rural, low population county, has had roughly the same number of cases as Marathon County.

“There are no easy answers to solve the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.