There was a whole new range of possibilities once the Rock County Public Health Department’s stay-at-home order lifted Thursday morning.

You could have a cookout and invite 50 of your closest friends.

You could throw away your mask.

You could hug or kiss anyone, as long as the other person consents.

But should you do any of these things?

Rock County health officials still recommend maintaining a 6-foot distance from others and wearing masks in stores and other enclosed public spaces. Businesses are also encouraged to take all kinds of precautions to keep the virus at bay.

The key words here are “recommend” and “encouraged.” With no county order in place, there is nothing local authorities can do to enforce the recommendations.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said people should still practice personal responsibility.

“As a police department, we strongly urge citizens to abide by the guidelines because it’s going to make our community more healthy, and it’s going to allow us to work through this COVID-19 issue quicker,” Moore said Thursday.

Moore expects people will complain about those who disregard the safety recommendations, as some did in recent weeks when the state and then the county safer-at-home rules were law.

“But there is no action that a police officer can take,” Moore said.

Moore has asked Rock County’s dispatchers to tell callers that COVID-19 precautions are not law and that police can’t do anything.

Police can still do something about a loud party, of course, and they can be called to break up fights or mediate disputes between neighbors or shoppers.

Rock County announced Tuesday it would lift its order Thursday, just ahead of a three-day holiday weekend.

Moore said he would have preferred the order was lifted on a Monday, giving people time to adjust.

At the time, The Gazette reported the county guidelines would not be enforceable, but the message has not gotten through to everyone.

Assistant Rock County Administrator Randy Terronez reiterated that the county’s new three-phase framework for reopening businesses consists merely of guidelines.

“We came out of the state’s safer-at-home declaration, which was enforceable before the (state) Supreme Court overruled it,” Terronez noted. “The county as a response then enacted a public health order, which was enforceable.

“Now we’ve moved, based upon the (health) metrics, into a voluntary, three-phase reopen plan,” Terronez continued. “We’re saying that plan is guidance to businesses and residents about how to operate. That plan is voluntary. It’s not enforceable.”

But Terronez said a new surge of COVID-19 cases could prompt the county to go back to stay-at-home rules, business restrictions or other mandates.

“Obviously, we’re hoping for peer pressure for businesses such as bars to adhere to the guidelines,” Terronez said. “And to the extent that if people don’t adhere to it, and if we see the (health) metrics going the other way—an increase in hospitalizations, use of ventilators or whatever it is—then we’d have to look at whether to reinstitute orders.”

Meanwhile, the new coronavirus is still here and infecting people.

The county health department on Thursday said residents can help county contact tracers by keeping track of where they go and with whom they come in contact.

Contact tracers try to track down and alert people who might have had contact with an infected person so those people can take precautions and get tested.

To help the tracers, the department suggests people:

  • Answer their phones, even if they don’t recognize the number, because it could be a county contact tracer.
  • Check voicemails regularly.
  • Keep a list of places visited and people contacted.
  • Keep the number of personal contacts as low as possible.