The state safer-at-home order is gone, but local governments are stepping into the breach.
Rock and Walworth counties are taking very different approaches.
Rock County issued its own order Wednesday night, consistent with safer-at-home, soon after the Supreme Court struck down the state order.
Rock County’s neighbor to the east has a different approach.
“Effective immediately, businesses can open and people can travel and gather in large groups,” Erica Bergstrom, Walworth County public health officer, said in a statement Thursday morning.
“Walworth County’s Division of Public Health will not be issuing orders that replace Safer at Home at this time,” Bergstrom said.
Walworth County issued guidance to businesses on its website for how they should protect their customers.
The Green County Health Department issued an order similar to Rock County’s, according to a Facebook message from police in Brodhead, which straddles the county line.
Rock County announced Thursday that violations of its order can result in fines of $30 for a first offense, $50 for a second and $200 for any subsequent offense.
Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said at 3:15 p.m. Thursday that deputies had received no complaints of people violating the county’s order.
Janesville police had one such report.
Rock County indicated it is working on setting up a task force to develop rules for reopening businesses and other organizations that will go into effect when the current order runs out May 26.
“In the next 10 days, we will engage community leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to develop a unified, county-specific plan to reopen that is based on our local metrics,” Rock County administration said in a statement Thursday. “We need your patience and understanding as we develop and implement this plan to open up our community in a way that will keep county residents safe and get them back to work as quickly and safely as possible.”
The statement said the Greater Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way Blackhawk Region and city of Milton had issued letters supporting the task force.
Rock County remains one of the top counties in Wisconsin for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita, the statement reads.
The city of Janesville issued a statement Thursday afternoon that it will comply with the county’s order.
”We’ll enforce the county order in place as required,” Elizabeth Hough, public information officer for the city’s joint information center, told The Gazette earlier Thursday. “We ask for the community’s help in continuing to do their part to slow the spread.”
Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther supported the county’s action.
“We appreciate the leadership of Rock County Public Health in providing necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Beloit and beyond,” Luther said on the city Facebook page. “We are not past the public health crisis here in our own community. Please continue to maintain social distancing and stay home unless it is for essential items.”
Rock County is relying on a state statute, 252.03(2), that gives local health departments authority to do “what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease,” County Administrator Josh Smith said in an email.
“This authority includes the power to order limited travel or prohibit mass gatherings, for example,” Smith said.
Smith also cirted state Statute 323.14(4)(a), which gives counties powers during emergencies “to order, by ordinance or resolution, whatever is necessary and expedient for the health, safety, protection, and welfare of persons and property within the local unit of government ...”