The city of Janesville will keep public meetings virtual for the foreseeable future, despite local efforts to open things up and offer more in-person services.

City officials say virtual meetings provide the safest option as the coronavirus continues to circulate through the community.

“From a public health standpoint, it is still best” to stay virtual, said Nick Faust, communications director.

During an all-hands meeting for city employees last week, City Manager Mark Freitag said public meetings will be kept virtual until the city has reached—or is closer to reaching—herd immunity from COVID-19. He indicated in-person meetings could return around June, but that is not certain.

The city relies on public health guidance and data to drive decision-making on in-person meetings, Faust said.

Rock County has shifted its safety recommendations to Phase 2, meaning most businesses and organizations can operate in person at 50% capacity.

COVID-19 case activity had been trending downward at the beginning of the year but started to increase again over the last week. The number of active and confirmed cases rose from 127 on March 21 to 211 on Tuesday.

Rock County Public Health Department officials Monday said a more contagious variant strain of the coronavirus has been confirmed in Rock County.

City council President Sue Conley said keeping meetings virtual is a good idea for now.

“I think it is wise to err on the side of caution,” she said.

Conley said she has not spoken about the issue recently with other council members.

Conley’s term as council president will end soon, as she is not seeking reelection April 6 because she was elected to represent the state’s 44th Assembly District.

The decision of Conley and two other council members—Tom Wolfe and Jim Farrell—not to seek reelection means at least three, possibly four, new members will be elected. Incumbent Doug Marklein would be the only candidate with experience if voters choose him.

A year of living in a virtual environment has forced almost everyone to adjust to online meetings, Conley said.

The most difficult adjustment for new council members will be trying to build relationships while doing business virtually, something Conley said she has also struggled with in the state Assembly.

City staff members are working to adjust the typical council orientation to a virtual format for new members, Faust said.

Public comments are accepted at virtual meetings through the city’s online comment form, which city officials find to be effective, he said.