The Rock County Public Health Department has moved the county to phase two of its COVID-19 reopening guidelines.

In a news release Wednesday, health department officials said local COVID-19 data show the county has met enough public health benchmarks to move forward from phase one, which was initiated in mid-May.

Among the highlights of phase two are looser limits on crowd size and business occupancy. The county now recommends 50% capacity with continued social distancing at public events and in retail businesses, commercial offices and churches.

Previously, county officials had recommended no more than 25% capacity crowds in most public places.

Under phase two, the county also recommends limiting playgrounds and private gatherings, such as indoor or outdoor weddings, to no more than 25 people. That’s more relaxed than the previously recommended limit of 10 people, but it’s only half of the 50-person cap the county had said it would recommend for phase two.

It’s one of two amendments county officials said they made to phase two reopening guidelines. The other amendment is for senior care facilities. The health department recommends that nursing homes continue to prohibit outside visits and limit other visits to “essential services,” which is the same guidance offered in phase one.

In its news release, the county said the amendments were “based on information about the (COVID-19) virus; consideration for the most vulnerable groups within the community; capacity of our health care systems; and guidance from our regional, state and national partners.”

In notes on the phase two guidelines, health department officials wrote that continued restrictions for nursing homes were based on “continued new cases and relatively high rates in associated high-risk facilities and vulnerable populations.”

Health department spokeswoman Kelsey Cordova said recent data show the county has met more than half of six benchmarks it had not met in May, when phase one was implemented. The improvement meets the county’s criteria to move from phase one to phase two, she said.

Overall, the data show Rock County has met nine of 11 benchmarks, officials said. The county fell short on two benchmarks: quick contact tracing and capacity for isolating people when appropriate.

The county’s goal is to reach 75% of a COVID-19 case’s contacts within 48 hours. Over the last 14 days, the county on average successfully contacted 63% of contacts within 48 hours.

The health department said the 63% score shows the county remains “on track” to meet contact-tracing benchmarks.

“We’re not moving backwards” on contact tracing, Cordova said. “We’re trying to ramp up and build our capacity to increase that number and hopefully get closer to and reach that 75% target.”

The county also missed the mark on its capacity to isolate people who, for various reasons, might not be able to self-isolate. That’s in part because the county is continuing to ready the Craig Center at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds as a potential quarantine facility, Cordova said.

Health department data show that the county has improved on several COVID-19 benchmarks, including:

  • Fewer than 5% of tests in Rock County are positive when averaged across a 14-day period.
  • At least 35% of intensive care beds are available, and more than 50% of ventilators are available.
  • At least 240 COVID-19 tests were conducted each day over a 14-day period.
  • The number of health care workers infected has declined over a 14-day period.

Those are benchmarks the county did not meet in mid-May, when it entered phase one.

Like phase one recommendations, the new recommendations are advisory, county officials said. However, officials have said the county could resort to partial lockdowns or reverse course on reopening if COVID-19 infections spike later.

The health department advises people to continue social distancing, hand washing and other personal protective guidelines as restrictions on crowd sizes ease.

“The most important factors to prevent the spread of the virus during phase two are physical distancing and protective measures,” the health department wrote.