COVID-19 crackdown in effect
Schools closed as of Tuesday, mass gatherings prohibited
Schools are shut down indefinitely. Nursing homes are closed to visitors, and restaurants and bars have been ordered closed. As of Tuesday, gatherings of 10 or more people are officially illegal, and those who gather in smaller groups are urged to stay at least six feet apart.
In short, Wisconsin has joined the rest of the country — and the world at large — in taking drastic measures to limit the spread of the global pandemic known as COVID-19.
A new case of coronavirus was reported in Wood County over the weekend, meaning that a contagion that started in Wuhan, China has now reached Central Wisconsin.
Local schools had their last day of inperson classes on Monday, a couple days before the mandatory statewide shutdown ordered by Gov. Tony Evers as of today, March 18, at 5 p.m.
At the Abbotsford and Colby school board meetings on Monday, superintendents outlined plans to continue educating students at home while school buildings are closed. Both districts are employing online technology wherever possible to provide instruction.
“We are in the process of implementing virtual learning options for students in grades 4 through 12 to receive instruction remotely utilizing their Chromebooks,” Colby superintendent Steve Kolden wrote. “Students in grades Pre-K through 3rd will receive information in a ‘packet’ format.”
Abbotsford administrators said they recently surveyed parents, and found that 90 percent or more of families have at-home Internet access.
Abbotsford superintendent Sherry Baker said that Monday gave students an opportunity to prepare for learning at home for at least the next three weeks.
“We did ask students to take home things from their cubbies and lockers,” she said. “We did ask kids to take home as much of their instructional materials as possible.”
Schools will still be providing breakfasts and lunches to kids during the closures, either through distribution dropoffs or pick-ups at the school.
“Food service will be carrying bag lunches,” Baker said. “So, we’ll be buying more pre-prepared and packaged food that can endure being put in a bag and handed out at the curb.”
Kolden also addressed the impact the shutdown will have on the district’s hourly support staff, who will be ex- pected to work their normal schedules from March 18 through April 3. However, if the district determines they are not needed, they will be sent home and paid up to half their daily scheduled hours.
“If you have an eight-hour shift, I’ll pay for you for four,” he explained.
Hourly employees will also be able to use their accrued sick leave time to offset any loss in wages, Kolden said.
“People have to pay a portion of their health insurance benefits,” he noted. “In the next three weeks, I don’t want people to have to write us a check when they’re not getting paid.”
If the state-mandated closures last beyond April 5, Kolden said the plan is to start issuing layoff notices to the district’s approximately 50 hourly employees so they can be eligible for unemployment. Those employees range from full-time staff to those who work a couple hours a day in the cafeteria.
Board members verbally agreed with Kolden’s plan, though no vote was taken because it was not listed as an action item on the agenda.
However, board president Bill Tesmer called for a special board meeting to be held on Monday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m., in order to address the potential extension of the statewide shutdown.
“I think it’s going to go longer,” he said.
Tesmer was proved right on Tuesday, when Gov. Evers said schools will be closed indefinitely.
Along with the schools, the public libraries in Abbotsford, Colby and Dorchester have all shut their doors indefi nitely. (See story on page 12).
Dave Hediger, owner of Abby County Market in Abbotsford, wants to make one thing clear to the public: the local grocery store is staying open and so will its pharmacy.
“We’re not going to close at all,” he said. “We’re doing the necessary things when it comes to self-service products, such as our salad bar or hot case.”
Hediger said store employees will serve salads and hot bar items directly to customers, and donuts will be prepackaged.
According to a press release from the Wisconsin Grocers Association, grocery stores are exempt from the 10-person public gathering limit, though they are urged to follow certain precautions, such as six-feet separation.
Hours of operation will remain the same, and Hediger said the store will continue to receive regular truck deliveries, with the main groceries coming on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
However, he said some items — such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes — will be limited.
“My advice to everybody there is to shop as needed,” he said. “If you want to bulk up, I’d say keep it at a seven-day max, because it’s going to take awhile for our vendors and suppliers to fulfill us.”
Hediger said some common items, such as bread and milk, are starting to become limited, so he’s asking customers to use common sense when shopping.
The store was completely out of toilet paper at the beginning of this week, he said, but he was hoping to get a new load in by today (Wednesday).
“The way the warehouse looks, we might be out of it for awhile,” he said.
In response, Hediger said customers will be limited to two packages of toilet paper until supplies are replenished.
Hediger said the store is doing some limited home deliveries for those who really need it, but there are no plans to expand that at this point.
The pharmacy will also continue to be open during its normal hours, though customers who are feeling sick are urged to send in family members to pick up prescriptions. Customers are also asked to call in their prescriptions three or four days in advance.
As an additional precaution, Hediger said store employees are disinfecting the store’s bathrooms every hour and also deep-cleaning shopping carts.
“We are going to wipe down our carts with bleach because we ran out of disinfecting wipes,” he said. In general, Hediger urges people to “hunker down” and heed public health warnings.
“Just follow what the CDC and the health department tell you,” he said. “As long as we do that, this area will be OK.”
Nursing homes ban most visitors
With older citizens at the highest risk of dying from coronavirus, all local nursing homes have shut down their facilities to visitors and, with few exceptions, are only allowing staff to come in and out.
Mike Wenzel, administrator of the Abbotsford Healthcare Center, 600 East Elm St., (formerly Dycora) said the health and safety of its 35 residents is paramount.
“We’re in the same place that everybody else is,” he said. “Right now, we’re not allowing visitors unless it has something to do with end-of-life or if there is a psycho-social reason that’s necessary.”
Even vendors who deliver to the facility are asked to drop off their products outside so a staff member can come out and get them.
In addition, staff are going through a screening process every time they check in for a shift and when they clock out. This includes taking their temperature and asking them questions about other symptoms or risk factors.
“If someone were starting to show signs and symptoms, then we’d ask them to go see a health care professional,” Wenzel said.
Contact between residents is also being limited, with individual interactions replacing group activities. Wenzel said staff is using smartphone technology whenever possible to allow residents to have contact with the outside world.
“We’re talking to our residents every day. We’re not keeping anything from our residents,” he said. “They know what’s going on, and we’re making sure we’re upfront and honest about it.”
Wenzel said the facility’s social worker has even gone out to people’s houses to get items from family members and bring them back to residents. He also said Abbotsford Healthcare Center would like to be an informational resource for those in the community, whether they have family at the facility or not.
“It is an emerging situation,” he said. “I don’t think this is a situation where we need to panic, but we do need to maintain standard infection control protocols, whether you’re in the building or not.”