Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says he recalls fondly, in a 2018 visit to Cambridge, being invited to pull a steam whistle at Dancing Goat Distillery.
On June 23 he met with the Cambridge Village Board under markedly different circumstances, by teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Village Board last met in person in March. Village officials say it will be at least August before they consider returning to that meeting format.
“The world changed pretty dramatically for us a few months ago,” Parisi said, including how all government does business. “County government was no different from that.”
Parisi shared how various county departments have adapted since March. Some, like child protective services and emergency services, have remained working in-person rather than remotely due to the nature of their mission.
One of the first things the county did was focus on its “most vulnerable populations,” the county executive said.
A county-run nursing home, Badger Prairie Health Care Center, was quickly closed to the public, and hundreds of hotel rooms were secured for homeless people so they would be socially distanced.
The county tapped federal CARES Act dollars, to do things like support Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin. It has since funneled millions of CARES Act dollars to Second Harvest, with more promised for coming months.
With federal stimulus funds set to expire at the end of July, that have been providing some unemployed Americans with an additional $600 a week, as well as unemployment eligibility expected to expire soon for some and many companies unsure about when they might call workers back, “we don’t really see the need letting up anytime soon,” Parisi said.
The county has worked with local farmers to ensure that food pantries that are supplied by Second Harvest have continued access to meat, dairy and produce items, Parisi also noted.
Four refrigerated semi-trailers are now parked at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison to hold those perishables until they can be distributed to area food pantries. The Alliant Energy Center is also now a public COVID-19 testing site.
A $10.8 million Dane Buy Local initiative is also now offering grants to area small businesses, Parisi said. “About half of that money has gone out and the rest is in process,” he said. “We wanted to do everything we could to throw a lifeline to our local businesses.”
Another county grant program is offering a total of $3.5 million to local daycare centers, he said. When businesses began to reopen, “we knew that would be important,” so parents could return to work, he said.
Other county efforts have included a partnership with the Tenant Resource Center for an eviction prevention program that covers rent for people out of work, directly paying landlords.
“We are happy to help with that,” Parisi said.
As COVID-19 cases tick up again nationwide, in Wisconsin, and locally, Parisi reminded local residents of the need to remain vigilant.
Dane County moved on June 15 to Phase 2 of its Forward Dane reopening plan. Then, on June 25, it retrenched, tightening some restrictions on bars, restaurants and private gatherings, which it said appears to be driving recent higher positive case counts.
“We are not out of the woods,” Parisi said.
About 1,000 people a day are being tested for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center, he said.
“As we move forward, testing is going to be critical,” he said, adding that “the worst thing that could happen would be a huge spike in cases in Dane County, and for us to have to regress (to a lower reopening phase).”
Parisi said the data being relied on to set reopening phases in Dane County is “not perfect science,” but is based on public health metrics and “the best information available.”
He called the ongoing effort to balance business reopening and public health “very difficult,” noting challenges unique to Cambridge, where Main Street is split between Dane and Jefferson counties. Jefferson County has had guidelines but no COVID-19 restrictions since the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 13 struck down a statewide Safer-At-Home order, setting up a situation where different rules apply in a span of less than a mile.
All of Cambridge’s businesses lie in Dane County. All but about 100 of the village’s 1,400 residents are also in Dane County.
But about three-quarters of a mile from downtown Cambridge, the Lake Ripley area including Lake Ripley Country Club, a stretch of bars and restaurants, a bowling alley and hundreds of Town of Oakland seasonal and year-round homes are in Jefferson County.
Village Administrator Lisa Moen thanked the county executive for holding weekly teleconferences with area municipal officials.
“That has been a wonderful source of information as we are working through this,” Moen said. “We really appreciate those phone calls and the effort you put into them.”
In other matters, the Village Board on June 23:
• Approved the appointment of former Village Board member Sue Christianson to the Cambridge Community Library Board.