High court overturns Safer at Home order
Marathon County issues toothless COVID -19 guidelines
The Marathon County Health Department on Thursday issued a COVID-19 “order” that recommends individuals, businesses, churches and schools observe social distancing and proper hygiene, but provides for no enforcement through civil fines or criminal penalties. The order’s unenforceable guidelines follow last week Wednesday’s 4-3 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturning state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm’s Order 28 that required businesses and schools to close and made illegal gatherings of over 10 people.
Across the state, counties and some cities have responded to the court decision with a patchwork of health department orders.
In Marathon County’s Order No. 1, health officer Joan Theurer recommends individuals wash their hands, maintain a six foot distance from other people, wear a mask and limit travel to minimize the spread of COVID-19. She also calls on businesses, not-for-profit groups and government agencies to follow reopening guidelines published by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Center for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Theuer’s order addresses “mass gatherings” but only says that social distancing should be observed.
As of Wednesday (today), Marathon County had 34 confirmed cases of COVID- 19 and one death.
Health department public informa- tion officer Judy Burrows said the order represents a “middle ground” to respond to what she said was a “slow and steady increase” in COVID-19 cases, but not a situation, found in Brown, Dane or Milwaukee counties, whether there have been hundreds of cases.
“If we would have had 300 cases, we would have had a different conversation,” she said. “We are trying to make the best decision we can.”
Burrows said the COVID-19 order was authored by Theuer in conversation with Marathon County administration.
The information officer said it will be up to individuals to figure out what they need to do to protect themselves from COVID-19.
“We want people to do the right thing,” she said.
Burrows said the county will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and, should cases spike, the health department will review its voluntary program.
“If circumstances change dramatically, we will reconsider Order No. 1,” she said. “We might change what we require. The situation changes daily. We are talking about a virus and that requires us to be adaptable.”
Burrows said the health department will take public complaints about businesses or other organizations that don’t follow COVID-19 guidelines and department staff will talk with the business owner or organization leaders about better practices. The department, however, will not require anyone to change how they operate.
“We might hear about a bar with lots and lots of people inside,” she said. “We can tell that business that might not be a wise thing to do. We can’t command them to do anything different.”
Burrows said the county doesn’t know how many people in Marathon County have COVID-19. The department does contact tracing of all people confi rmed with the illness and, doing this work, learns that the disease sometimes is contracted through a friend or relative, but, more times than not, from the community in general. She said free, drive-through public COVID-19 testing at Northcentral Technical College on Tuesday this week may give a better picture of how widespread the disease is.
Burrows said masks, social distancing and handwashing reduces the chance anybody can get COVID-19, but does not eliminate the risk.
“It reduces the relative risk,” she said.
Burrows said the Supreme Court decision accelerated an otherwise, slow, step-by-step process of reopening the Wisconsin economy.
This process, she said, is less predictable because all 72 counties in the state are fashioning their own set of rules.
She said it’s difficult to know the progress of COVID-19 now that Safer at Home rules have been ditched.
“We are all trying to do the best we can,” she said. “I wish we would have a crystal ball, but we don’t.”