Most health departments rescinding local Safer at Home orders

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN (WBAY) - Local health orders seeking to extend the state's Safer at Home safety protocols fell like dominoes Friday afternoon, with local leaders blaming a lack of leadership from Madison.

Brown, Calumet, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Winnebago counties and the cities of Appleton, De Pere and Menasha rescinded their local Safer at Home orders.

Appleton issued a statement Friday afternoon saying its local Safer at Home order was intended to give lawmakers time to establish statewide rules that would ensure businesses reopen and activities resume safely during this health crisis, but Mayor Jake Woodford said it became clear that no immediate legislative action was coming.

Brown County Public Health Officer Anna Destree said after further review, the county's attorney decided the local health order may not stand up to a legal challenge.

Brown County's corporation counsel says it became clear a patchwork of local health orders keeping businesses closed could no longer be considered "reasonable and effective" when neighboring counties reopened businesses with fewer restrictions or none at all.

Manitowoc County rescinded its order a short time after Brown County, saying it's consistent with Brown County, which had a much larger coronavirus outbreak.

"We didn't want to draw the virus into Manitowoc County by leaving our bars, restaurants and other locations open to attract Brown County residents," County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer said.

"It is deeply frustrating and disappointing that the legislature and Governor will not work together, or even attempt to do so, in the interest of statewide health and clarity," Appleton Mayor Woodford wrote. "The people of Appleton are frustrated and confused as a result of this inaction, and we are not going to wait for the State to act if they aren’t going to anyway."

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson wrote, "After conferring with the governor, it became clear that the legislature has no plans for a staged and sensible reopening of our public spaces."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court nullified the statewide Safer at Home order, saying the state's health secretary didn't have the power to issue a blanket quarantine without following a process, including input from the Legislature. Gov. Evers said he met with Republican leaders who brought the lawsuit leading to the court ruling, and he said they seemed to be okay with a patchwork of health orders across the state. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said local health departments are best suited to respond to the coronavirus in their communities (see related story).

Outagamie County Executive Nelson asked the state attorney general for an emergency opinion on local health orders. Attorney General Josh Kaul Kaul said the Supreme Court ruling didn't address local powers, but he advised the local rules to "speak specifically to the local authority’s statutory power to “prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases" (CLICK HERE to read the emergency opinion). Kaul offered the opinion after Brown and Racine counties -- two counties hit hard by the virus -- rescinded their orders.

Local health officials are encouraging businesses to follow recommendations by the CDC and guidelines from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to ensure the safety of employees and customers when they reopen.

Destree also encouraged people to continue following the same safety protocols: Social distancing, staying home when you're sick, washing hands frequently, sanitizing high-touch surfaces and wearing a face mask outside the home.

"The Supreme Court's ruling did not end the pandemic," Appleton Health Officer Kurt Eggebrecht said. "Along with our partners, we will continue to monitor and respond to this public health emergency."

Calumet County Corporation Counsel Kimberly Tenerelli echoed, "It is very difficult to have a local public health order without the ability to enforce it through statutes.... There is still a pandemic out there. This ruling does not change that. However, with this ruling and lack of guidance from the legislature through its rulemaking process, public health officials are struggling to keep communities safe through local orders."

Calumet County Health Officer Bonnie Kolbe said people and businesses still need to "take the threat of the virus seriously as we reopen our community."

Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties are extending their community COVID-19 testing through May 22. The testing will be open to everyone, even if they don't have any symptoms, starting Monday, May 18. Although the testing is intended for residents of those three counties, public health officials say no one will be turned away.

The testing is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Fox Valley Technical College, 1825 N. Bluemound Dr., in Grand Chute.

Not everyone is lifting their local health orders. The Oneida Nation affirmed it will continue the Safer at Home order until June 11.

"It is unfortunate that local Public Health Officials were placed under political pressure to make a decision about safer at home practices, regardless of the science," the statement read in part. "Under the situation which has been created in the greater Green Bay area, a blanket opening without required guidelines, we are concerned for the health and safety of the community, our customers and tribal members."

SAFER AT HOME EXTENSIONS

  • Door County - May 21
  • Menominee Indian Tribe - May 25
  • Oneida Nation - Until June 11 (details)
  • Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections: Non-essential visit restrictions still in place.
  • Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources: Annual park pass required for entry; capacity limits in place; restrooms, concession buildings and other facilities remain closed; camping remains closed through May 26.

NO EXTENSION

  • Appleton - Businesses can reopen. Local Safer at Home order rescinded
  • Brown County - Businesses can reopen. Local Safer at Home order rescinded
  • Calumet County - Businesses can reopen. Local restrictions are no longer in effect
  • De Pere - Businesses can reopen. Local Safer at Home order rescinded
  • Fond du Lac County - All businesses can open immediately (details)
  • Green Lake County - Open with safety guidelines (details)
  • Kewaunee County - Open with local and WEDC guidelines (details)
  • Manitowoc County - Businesses can reopen. Local Safer at Home order rescinded.
  • Marinette County - No extension order; encouraging following WEDC safety guidelines (details and guidelines)
  • Menasha - Businesses can reopen if following WEDC guidelines. Safer at Home order rescinded.
  • Oconto County - No extension order, but reserves right to take action in case of an outbreak (details and guidelines)
  • Outagamie County - Businesses can reopen. Safer at Home order rescinded
  • Shawano-Menominee Counties - Awaiting guidance from the state
  • Waushara County - Reopening with its own guidelines in effect until June 1 (details)
  • Waupaca County - Open with local and WEDC safety guidelines (details)
  • Winnebago County - Businesses can reopen; local Safer at Home order rescinded

ORIGINAL REPORT:
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Brown County Health and Human Services Officer Anna Destree says the county will continue to follow Emergency Orders #28, #34, and #36 until MAY 20.

De Pere Public Health is also following the extension until May 20.

CLICK HERE to read Brown County's Safer at Home Extension.

Emergency Order #28 is Safer at Home, which restricts which businesses can open and how many people can gather in one place.

Brown County has been dealing with several outbreaks of COVID-19, hundreds linked to people who work at local plants and their families.

"This virus knows no boundaries, including county lines, and the most effective way to prevent, control and suppress COVID-19 is for State Officials and the State Legislature to work together and implement a statewide approach. That has not occurred, and therefore the below reasonable and necessary local actions must be taken pursuant to the authority vested in me per Wis. State. Secs. 252.03 and 252.25. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise given the high number of positive cases found in Brown County," says Destree.

The Brown County Sheriff's Office says it and other law enforcement agencies are tasked with investigating and documenting violations of the public health order. The sheriff's office is hoping for voluntary compliance.

Wisconsin State Sec. 252.03 gives local health officers the ability to "promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases."

"Local health officers may do what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease; may forbid public gatherings when deemed necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics and shall advise the department of measures taken," reads the state law.

CLICK HERE to read the entire state law.

As of May 13, Brown County had recorded 1,971 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths. More than 40 people remain hospitalized with the virus.

Free community-wide testing is available in Brown County at the Resch Center, 820 Armed Forces Dr,, and Casa Alba Melanie, 314 S. Madison St.

CLICK HERE to register online for testing. You can also register by calling 211.

Hours for both locations are 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday - Friday, and 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The sites have translation services available for people who speak Spanish, Hmong or Somali.

On Thursday, Outagamie County announced it was extending the Safer at Home order until "a superseding order is issued."

"We’re working to pick up where the Badger Bounce Back plan left off," said County Executive Tom Nelson. "We’re guided by the science, and I value and support the direction provided by our Public Health Officer. The continuation of social distancing and the staged reopening of businesses presents the best strategy for preventing the spread of this dangerous virus."

CLICK HERE to read the full Outagamie County Safer at Home order.

COVID-19 testing at Fox Valley Technical College has been extended through May 22. People who live or work in Wisconsin and have at least one symptom of COVID-19 can get a free test.CLICK HERE for testing hours and a list of symptoms.

Appleton Health Officer Kurt Eggebrecht has also extended Safer at Home guidelines until May 20.

"This timeline is consistent with the six days requested by the state legislature to allow time to establish statewide rules to safely reopen Wisconsin," reads a statement from the city.

The city is choosing to reopen in phases based on the Badger Bounce Back plan.

CLICK HERE to read Appleton's extension.

Two COVID-19 patients have died in Appleton. The city's total of confirmed cases is 57.

Winnebago County has extended Safer at Home until May 20.

“This is a challenging time, but we all have an important role in minimizing the spread of COVID-19, especially among the most vulnerable populations,” said Doug Gieryn, Winnebago County Public Health Department Director and Health Officer. “By extending the Safer at Home order, we are joining a regional initiative with our neighboring counties to put strategies in place that will protect the safety and well-being of our residents and businesses.”

CLICK HERE for the county's statement on the extension.

Shawano-Menominee Counties are awaiting guidance from the state before they take the next step. At this time, they are encouraging people and businesses to be safe and continue physical distancing and avoid large gatherings. CLICK HERE for the full statement from Shawano-Menominee Counties.

Menasha Public Health Officer Nancy McKenney says the city will also stick with the Badger Bounce Back phased approach to reopening. They will follow Safer at Home until another order is put in place.

CLICK HERE for the full Menasha order.

The Oconto County Department of Health and Human Services says county officials are meeting with local officials on the next steps. In the meantime, they are encouraging residents and businesses to take safety precautions including physical distancing, hand washing, staying home when sick and avoiding gathering in groups of 10 people or more.

The Menominee Indian Tribe's Safer at Home guidelines will go until May 25.

Calumet, Kewaunee and Waushara counties are taking their own approaches to the Safer at Home order, sometimes including elements of the state's Safer at Home order and WEDC guidelines.

Calumet County issued a 12-page order outlining restrictions for local businesses. Restaurants are only allowed takeout and outside dining, for example. Salons and spas will be allowed to reopen with safety protocols, including the spacing of workstations. Yard sales still aren't allowed.

Kewaunee County, for another example, tells long-term facilities to continue following Safer at Home guidelines but allow compassion visits. It reopens bars and restaurants with appropriate spacing between tables and bar stools; the use of pool tables and darts is discouraged.

Waushara County's 3-page order includes occupancy restrictions on businesses and church services.

Fond du Lac County will not issue additional Safer at Home orders, meaning businesses can open effective May 14. This includes barbers, nail salons, massage therapists, tattoo artists, restaurants, bars and places of worship.

Fond du Lac County Public Health Officer Kim Mueller encourages people to continue physical distancing, wear masks, and stay home if sick.

CLICK HERE to read Fond du Lac County's order to rescind Safer at Home.

Dane County has extended Safer at Home until May 26.

Rock County has also opted to keep stay at home orders in place.

Kenosha County initially issued and extension of Safer at Home, but later withdrew on guidance from the Wisconsin Counties Association. CLICK HERE for the full story.

The City of Milwaukee Health Department's public health order also remains in effect at this time.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs says it will continue to limit medically unnecessary visits to its nursing facilities in King, Chippewa Falls and Union Grove.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling overturned the governor's Safer at Home extension, saying the administration overstepped its authority when the governor ordered Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm to extend the statewide order until May 26.

CLICK HERE to read the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the ruling Thursday morning, tweeting "Its [Wisconsin] Democratic Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!"

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Gov. Evers announced that retail stores could reopen to five customers at a time. Because there was no stay with the Supreme Court decision, businesses were allowed to open across the state Wednesday evening.

Businesses in communities where local health officials have extended Safer at Home face the possibility of fines if they open prior to May 20.

Wisconsin State Law 252.25 states any person who violates these orders "shall be imprisoned for not more than 30 days or fined not more than $500 or both."

Statewide, it remains unclear what the Legislature and Governor's administration plan to do regarding a coronavirus response for the state. Republicans have stated they support a regional approach which would allow counties with a small number of cases to fully reopen.

“Finally, as we continue to move forward, I would like to again invite Governor Evers to join us in collaborating on solutions as we work to develop new COVID-related policies that work for all of us," reads a statement from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).

Gov. Evers says, “This virus has killed more than 400 of our family members, friends, and neighbors and thousands more across our state are sick. I am disappointed in the decision today, but our top priority has been and will remain doing what we can and what we have to do to protect the health and safety of the people of our state. After months of unproductive posturing, I hope the folks in the Legislature are ready to do the same.”

CLICK HERE to listen to Gov. Evers' Thursday radio address.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has released a set of guidelines for businesses as they prepare to reopen. CLICK HERE for those guidelines.

Stay with Action 2 News for updates.