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Law enforcement committee reviews updates on Safer at Home orders as state prepares to reopen

County officials continue to be deluged with information about enforcement of the state’s Safer at Home orders. On Friday, the Taylor County Law Enforcement and Emergency Services received an update on activities.

Working in conjuncture with the National Guard, drive-thru testing sites have become available to those who need them, allowing people to stay in their cars as they’re tested. The sites were created in-part to alleviate the fears some have of going to the hospital to get tested for COVID-19, only to end up catching it there.

Taylor County health officer Patty Krug warned this is not a time to become complacent in health-safety measures, and to not let the zero local cases lull anyone into a false sense of security.

“Even though we have negative tests in Taylor County, we have residents who are close contacts with positive cases that we are also following,” said Krug. “We’re required to monitor those individuals for 14 days; they have to stay in their homes... And it’s when [a case occurs], not if. I would be extremely shocked if we don’t get our first case in the next three weeks.”

Along with testing, the committee is prioritizing the obtaining and dispersal of personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responders and those who are vulnerable to COVID-19. As such, the committee approved the hiring of a part-time emergency preparedness assistant to alleviate some of the mounting pressure brought on by the pandemic. The position will last for two months, and will be largely responsible for pandemic related issues.

“I have somebody trained who’s well versed in this, and ready to be brought on immediately,” said Krug, adding that the extra help will come at no additional impact to the tax levy.

Due to nationwide PPE shortages, Taylor County is obtaining equipment through more local producers. Over 2,000 face shields, which can be washed and reused, were produced by volunteers through Wadal Plastics. Decorator Industries is working to donate washable face masks, and 45th Parallel Distillery in St. Croix County is working to produce hand sanitizer. These styles of masks will not filter the virus out of the air, but rather, they help delay the spread to others.

The N-95 respirators needed for protection form an airtight seal around the mouth and nose that forces all oxygen taken in to pass through a filter, preventing the virus from entering; cloth masks, construction dust masks, and standard medical masks can’t prevent the virus from being brought into the lungs, but they do help decelerate person-to-person transfer by trapping expelled virus particles in the fabric, rather than dispersing them far into the air.

The debate between Safer at Home orders and those who want to reopen Wisconsin rages on, as Republican lawmakers file lawsuits against Gov. Evers, who wants to keep the orders in place until May 26.

A limited opening proposal was sent to Wisconsin’s health department last Friday for review, and sheriff Larry Woebbeking wrote a letter to Evers relaying the complaints and concerns that his office has received, along with words encouraging the governor to implement a limited opening. Despite attempting to communicate the peoples’ dissatisfaction to officials, Woebbeking received no reply.

“I’m a very small fish in a very big pond,” he said. “I doubt [what I say to the governor] has any bearing. But, that being said, I felt it was my duty to pass on the concerns of the public.”

The committee stressed that they are taking the pandemic serious and aren’t making decisions that would result in further infections, all the while putting an emphases on maintaining a sanitary environment.

“We’re not taking this lightly,” said committee chairman Lester Lewis, noting that he himself is in the atrisk group of individuals. “The reality of it is, if I catch it, you’re going to be looking for someone new to fill my position. That’s just the way these things go.”

Larger lobbying organizations who are in favor of keeping stores closed have been paid more attention to by Evers’ cabinet, with government officials opting to permit a select few individuals to speak for the majority of business owners across Taylor County.

“Whether you’re in favor of regional [openings] or not, be aware that the association that represents us at the state is not in favor of it,” Lewis said. “I’m not telling you whether you should or shouldn’t be in favor of it, but they’ve made it pretty clear they aren’t.”

The Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Committee continue to prepare for the pandemic, but the divide between those who want to have limited openings and those who deem it unsafe to open businesses is leading to an increase in tension across the state.

On May 11, Evers announced that standalone and strip-mall retail stores will be allowed up to five customers at a time; drive-in movie theaters will open as well, with increased restrictions.

In other matters, committee members were informed that all emergency sirens in Medford were updated and replaced. Medford and Rib Lake have agreed to move their siren testing from Saturdays at 11 a.m. to Wednesdays at noon. As of July 1, Gilman will move their testing to Wednesday as well.