01STOCK_CORONAVIRUS02

Nationwide fears about the resurgence of COVID-19 are now at our doorstep.

Citing a “concerning” increase in new cases of coronavirus infection, the Rock County Public Health Department on Friday stepped up its promotion of mask wearing in public, and not just indoors.

“To date, this week alone we’ve seen a 60% increase in new cases compared to last week,” Public Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval said in a news release late Friday afternoon.

Sandoval “strongly” recommended businesses to require masks for both their employees and customers.

So did Whitewater City Manager Cameron Clapper, who also issued a warning Friday.

Clapper said if cases can’t be controlled, the city risks losing the return of students this fall at UW-Whitewater, which would mean “certain death” for many businesses.

“Cloth face coverings are strongly recommended to be worn indoors and outdoors whenever around anyone who is not part of your household, with very few exceptions,” Sandoval’s release states.

State figures updated Saturday show Rock County with 1,023 coronavirus cases so far, an increase of 59 cases since the county reported numbers on Wednesday.

The county has seen 24 deaths.

Clapper said he anticipates the pandemic will continue for months.

In a letter to residents and news media, Clapper wrote, “The virus activity level within Walworth County has been consistently high for the past two weeks, as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Whitewater alone has already had over 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and that number is expected to rise.”

The state as of Saturday counted 752 cases with 18 deaths for Walworth County.

“No regulations have been imposed as yet, but if COVID-19 confirmed cases increase significantly, or if community members do not take recommended health practices seriously, such an action may be considered,” Clapper wrote.

“At this time, I am asking for an enhanced level of cooperation from businesses currently operating in a manner out of sync with current health guidelines,” he added.

Clapper noted the city’s economic success is closely tied to UW-Whitewater, where everyone will be required to wear masks indoors, the UW Board of Regents recently decreed.

“The city of Whitewater supports the efforts of (UW) System officials planning for the safe return of students in the fall. It is critical to Whitewater’s economy that students return. For many local businesses, the absence of a fall semester would mean certain death, especially for Whitewater’s hospitality industry,” Clapper wrote.

“The university’s success in keeping students in Whitewater may greatly depend on how well our local business establishments observe health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19,” he added.

Clapper said the city recently received a complaint from a person who ate in two city restaurants.

“The individual was upset that in neither of the restaurants were the waitpersons wearing masks, and there also was not the minimum 6 feet between occupied tables that is recommended. This is particularly concerning as most infectious disease experts say dining in a restaurant and spending time in a bar are among the riskiest activities for COVID-19 transmission,” Clapper wrote.

Clapper urged businesses to post signs at entrances, encouraging or requiring recommended health practices, including physical distancing and the use of facemasks.

Clapper also said businesses should “require each customer attendant, cashier, or server to wear a mask unless they have a legitimate medical excuse” and to limit customer capacity and ensure that there is at least 6 feet between customers, or dining parties in the case of a restaurant.

Wisconsin hit a new high in newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, breaking the record set the day before, The Associated Press reported.

The state Department of Health Services reported 754 new cases Thursday and 845 on Friday.

Cases in Wisconsin, as well as the percentage positive of all those tested, have been increasing since mid-June, mirroring spikes seen in most states.

Of the 12,702 test results in Wisconsin reported Friday, 6.6% were positive, up from 5.7% on Thursday.

“Cloth face coverings are NOT a replacement for physical distancing recommendations or other guidance,” the Rock County release states. “Each resident and visitor of Rock County has a responsibility to help keep the community safe, healthy, and open.”

The release notes the latest scientific understanding that people who are infectious usually don’t know it, so everyone should assume he or she is potentially infectious.

“Cloth face coverings create a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person … coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice,” the release states.

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