JVG_200523_FREITAG

City Manager Mark Freitag speaks during the State of the City address.

JANESVILLE

City Manager Mark Freitag said a phrase he learned while in the military sums up his attitude toward the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do not want to rush to failure,” Freitag said.

Rock County officials this week chose to drop the county’s safer-at-home order and begin a phased reopening to get businesses up and running after months of partial or full closure.

Now is the time to do something, Freitag said.

But the city manager said he feels “cautiously optimistic” about reopening because the coronavirus is still present in the community and likely more present than it has been so far.

He raised concerns about data released Thursday showing the greatest day-to-day increase of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rock County, a jump from 452 cases to 493.

Health officials say the jump is likely reflective of increased testing at public testing sites in Beloit this week.

Everyone will have to work together in following safety protocols to keep the community safe, Freitag said.

“We do not want to create a bigger problem by not operating within guidelines,” Freitag said.

Freitag answered the following questions from The Gazette:

Gazette: How confident are you businesses will adhere to recommended safety guidelines?

Freitag: Just like with everything, there will be people who go above and beyond, people who will meet expectations and people who will not try, he said.

He believes most businesses will abide by the recommended guidelines set out by the city and county.

But if there is a problem locally, it likely will stem from the attitude of people who refuse to try, he said.

Gazette: Why are some city facilities still closed?

Freitag: His biggest concern is preserving city manpower so essential services can be provided, he said.

City Hall is still mostly closed to the public with the exception of the first floor customer service window.

Facilities such as the wastewater treatment plant, fire station, police department and water utility center house workers with specific skills, and they need to be protected so the city can keep running, he said.

The city’s ice arena and senior center are under consideration for reopening.

Contact sports are discouraged but hockey programs have asked the city to reopen for training and drills, Freitag said.

The senior center, which caters to a vulnerable population, likely will remain closed for a while.

Gazette: Does reopening change the work being done within the emergency operations center?

Freitag: The center’s activation level has been demoted from a level 3 to level 4, meaning workers will continue to monitor data, manage personal protective equipment and communicate with the public and facilities that are vulnerable for outbreaks.

Gazette: When will the city consider dropping its state of emergency order?

Freitag: The nation, state and county all still are under states of emergency and likely will be for quite some time. The emergency operations center will continue to operate as long as the state of emergency is in place.

Countries that experienced the virus earlier than the U.S. are starting to see second waves of it.

“I would be speculating to give a particular date or time,” Freitag said. “I think it will be a while.”

Gazette: Is the city planning for what it can do if there is a significant increase in cases?

Freitag: We are prepared for a significant increase, he said.

If the situation gets worse locally, the city can assist health care centers with its medical surge shelter and personal protective equipment.

The city can reduce service levels and turn things off that have recently come back online.

The city also is prepared to call for public testing sites, such as the ones recently used in Beloit, if need be.

Gazette: What would you say to people who might feel anxious about returning to public life?

Freitag: “I would encourage them to get out and give it a try as long as they are comfortable. You have to use common sense.”

Freitag said he uses his gut to tell him whether a situation is safe.

If he walks into a store where many people are not wearing masks, he turns around and walks out, Freitag said.

“People need to use their own personal compass for what feels right,” Freitag said. “If they’re not ready, no harm no foul.”

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