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DC Health Dept. COVID-19 update: “Now what?”

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  — Since the state Supreme Court tossed out the Wisconsin Department of Health Services “Safer at Home” order on May 13 — now what?

The Safer at Home order and the Badger Bounce Back plan were intended to “turn the dial” on opening the economy and getting people back to more normal activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But since the Supreme Court tossed out Safer at Home and the “switch is flipped, the onus is on the individual to stay safe,” said KT Gallagher, Dunn County’s health officer, during her weekly COVID-19 update on May 15 delivered via Facebook Live.

The Safer at Home order was set to expire on May 26.

As of May 15, there were 20 positive cases of COVID-19 in Dunn County, an increase of six new cases over the week before.

While the Supreme Court nullified the Safer at Home order, COVID-19 is not gone, Gallagher said.

Gallagher issued her own order May 14 that is similar to the Safer at Home order and is advisory in nature.

The Dunn County order advises people to avoid mass gatherings, to avoid unnecessary travel and to stay home when possible.

Businesses are expected to use the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s guidelines on how to re-open safely to avoid the transmission of COVID-19, Gallagher said.

Among Dunn County residents, 45 percent have one risk factor for severe illness with COVID-19, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, being over the age of 60 or obesity, while 27 percent of Dunn County’s population have two risk factors for severe illness, she said.

“I implore you to stay home,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also is asking Dunn County residents to respect others.

If you see someone who is doing social distancing, respect that person’s space. If you see someone wearing a mask, respect that person’s decision to wear a mask, she said.

“It is not about imposing (on others) what you think is right — on both sides,” Gallagher said.

“We want all of Dunn County to do what is right for us,” she said.

In terms of businesses incorporating the WEDC guidelines, Dunn County will work with  businesses on a voluntary basis, Gallagher said.

Businesses that did not close during the Safer at Home order have been implementing best practices, she said.

If there is a cluster of outbreaks of COVID-19, Dunn County will provide guidance to businesses to work through the outbreak voluntarily, but if the business is not willing to follow the guidelines, “there are other methods to prevent transmission,” Gallagher said.

Dunn County residents are advised to follow the guidelines Gallagher has been talking about for weeks: social distancing, thoroughly and frequently washing hands, observing good respiratory hygiene by sneezing or coughing into your elbow and wearing a mask in public where social distancing is difficult, and staying home when you are feeling sick.

It is important for people to consider themselves as being positive for COVID-19 because people who are infected can be shedding the virus before they have any symptoms of the disease, Gallagher said.

Testing for COVID-19 is the only way to know where the disease is and how it is spreading.

While Dunn County has increased the number of tests weekly to 175, a total of 625 tests per week would be needed to better track COVID-19, she said.

Dunn County must increase community-based testing to reach the point where if someone wants to be tested for the disease, that person can get tested without a doctor’s order, Gallagher said.

If someone wants to be tested now, that person can use tele-health to contact his or her doctor, and the doctor will refer you to a location for testing, she said.

Of the mobile testing sites that were set up recently, 504 people were tested in 17 counties, Gallagher noted.

“This is about all of us fighting for our community against COVID-19,” she said.

“Do what you can do to keep your germs to yourself … if you are sick, stay home,” Gallagher said.

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