As the numbers of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has taken a toll on Wisconsin’s hospitals and healthcare workers, Waunakee’s Village Board president made an impassioned plea to residents at the board’s Nov. 16 Zoom meeting.
“I implore everyone who sees this… please, please right now. Our systems are being overloaded. Dr. Ranum is not here tonight because he couldn’t be, because our healthcare workers are getting sick right now, and not having enough of them right now means we have another issue on our hands,” President Chris Zellner said, referring to Bill Ranum, a family physician with SSM and village trustee.
Zellner urged area residents to follow public health orders to protect one another.
Zellner read from a Facebook post by his niece, who described her 3-year-old daughter’s experience with COVID after attending a Halloween party.
“By Saturday, my daughter was sleeping most of the day, spiked a fever of 104,’” Zellner read. The child then had a seizure and stopped breathing.
“No one should have to see their child blue and limp in their arms,” the post continued as it urged people not to gather during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Much of the village board’s COVID discussion also focused on enforcement, an issue raised at a Nov. 19 Waunakee Area Chamber of Commerce virtual meeting with Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) employees. Just days after new a new public health emergency order took effect, the meeting provided information to business owners and employers.
Currently in Dane County, public health workers are following up on complaints they’ve received on about 40 to 50 businesses for non-compliance, public health officials said.
Businesses who fail to comply can face hefty fines, up to $1,000 per employee or client in violation. Those who observe businesses not following the order, which requires wearing face coverings and limiting capacity to 50% at retail stores and to 25% at restaurants, are urged to send an email to the health department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Residents are also urged to report non-compliance of the mass gatherings restriction within the community, as well, said Bonnie Koenig of PHMDC. Those emails to the health department trigger onsite investigations and additional compliance work.
“When a complaint email comes through that email, we see that, if it’s the first one… as an opportunity to educate. So we always first send an educational letter to whoever is receiving the complaint, whether it’s a business or a person or place or space or activity,” Koenig said.
The recipient of the letter will be informed of the order requirements and the complaint, so they know how to comply.
If a second complaint is lodged, public health will do an onsite compliance check that could result in a citation or fines or enforcement.
Right now, with orders prohibiting indoor mass gatherings, such as a class at a gym, the business could potentially be fined $1,000 for every person in the class plus court costs, Koenig added.
“So this can be really costly, and it’s really important that businesses understand what the ramifications are for not following orders,” she said.
Individuals can still go to a gym to work out, but a class or gathering of people can lead to co-mingling, Koenig explained.
Many municipal police departments have worked with the health department on enforcement. Koenig said health officials appreciate notifications from officers who observe violations. Public health workers have also asked officers for support with security during site inspections, noted Marci Paulsen, an attorney with PHMDC.
“Generally, we’re just asking for support. Public Health is taking the lead on any enforcement,” Paulsen added.
In some cases, such as the City of Madison, police have issued citations on-site during large gatherings, she said.
“We just don’t want to require that of law enforcement because we know there’s a lot of other roles that they’re called to,” Paulsen said.
In Waunakee, the police department’s approach when hearing complaints has been to observe, educate and document for the public health department, said Police Chief Adam Kreitzman.
The police have worked to ensure the same guidelines are being followed for all businesses.
“That was my biggest fear, is one business is being treated differently than others,” Kreitzman said. He added the department has not received many calls.
The new emergency order does not change previous orders in place for restaurants. It requires masking when not eating or drinking, spacing customers 6 feet apart, and allowing tables to seat no more than six people who must be from the same household.
For bars, only outdoor or curbside service is allowed.
What’s new in the order is the restriction on mass gatherings. These are prohibited indoors and allowed for up to 10 participants outdoors.
Emergency Order #10 can be found on the PHMDC website at publichealthmdc.com. The order also includes important information about protocols for businesses when an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
Business owners with questions can also email public health officials at email@example.com.