Rock County’s safer-at-home order will be lifted Thursday.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday, the order will be replaced with the first phase in a “phased reopening plan,” county Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval said in a press conference Tuesday.
County epidemiologist Nick Zupan said the data show Rock County is ready to advance into phase 1 of the recovery plan.
County Administrator Josh Smith said the decision to open Thursday—five days earlier than planned—was made after a conversation Monday with chamber of commerce representatives from Beloit, Janesville and Milton; local municipal administrators; nonprofit representatives; public health staff; hospital executives; and business owners.
Deciding to open Thursday was about county officials wanting to keep their word, Smith said.
“On the one hand, we have said that we want to use the data to indicate when we’re ready to go into phase 1, and the data shows that as of now we should be ready. From a credibility standpoint, we didn’t want to sit on it and wait until the 26th,” Smith said.
The “quite extensive” plan was created with guidance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department, Zupan said.
The data reference hospital capacity, equipment availability, COVID-19 tests in the county and other factors to determine when to proceed through the phases in the plan.
Smith said county residents will have to trust each other.
“We know we cannot live under orders forever and that soon we’re going to have to begin to trust each other to make the right decisions on physical distancing and other measures to keep us all safe,” Smith said.
The plan gives recommendations for different sectors of the community but does not mandate that residents stay home. Beginning Thursday, residents cannot be punished for not following the recommendations.
The plan offers general guidance such as washing hands and social distancing and gives advice for schools, churches, health care centers and businesses.
Under phase 1 of the plan, most businesses or public spaces are allowed to reopen with 25% capacity limits and should practice physical distancing, implement protective measures and use best business practices.
This includes restaurants, bars, gyms, libraries, churches and other businesses.
“We have goals with benchmarks,” Sandoval said. “We have a guide based on progress and setbacks. This is to take baby steps. You know, we have to be able to walk before we can run.”
Other events, such as garage sales, should have 10 people or fewer under phase 1. Visiting senior centers and holding large events such as fairs are not recommended.
K-12 schools are to follow recommendations from the state Department of Public Instruction in phase 1.
The Janesville Emergency Operations Center’s safety team released guidelines for business owners and residents Tuesday afternoon. In a news release, the city said it “strongly encourages” business owners and residents to follow the guidelines.
If the number of cases spikes or begins climbing, a stay-at-home order could be reinstated. However, Smith said the county would prefer to use other measures or tools instead of an order.
In a separate conference call Tuesday, Smith said the county expects the number of COVID-19 cases to peak in June. He said the peak timeline moves from week to week and can be hard to pinpoint exactly.
While the virus is still active, the state and county safer-at-home orders gave the county time to plan how to return to normalcy, Sandoval said Tuesday.
“It’s a new virus. There’s still many unknowns about it, and I did want to point out it hasn’t gone away,” she said. “It isn’t less contagious or lethal. There’s no vaccine, and there is treatment. And so the state stay-at-home order bought us some time to ensure we had the capacity and capability to care for those most adversely affected.”
The county order helped with planning, but now residents have the responsibility of maneuvering appropriately and reopening by following the Rock Recovery plan, Smith said.
“It’s up to all of us now to do the right thing and take responsibility for our own actions, not so much just to keep ourselves safe but to keep our friends, neighbors and those who are at risk safe.”