Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag was not surprised by this week’s Supreme Court decision to strike down the state’s safer-at-home order.
He was surprised by the timing.
The decision was made public shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, leaving municipalities scrambling to learn what it meant and which powers were left to municipalities, Freitag said.
It wasn’t until 11 p.m. that Rock County health officials issued an order to continue safer-at-home guidelines, which left the county without regulations for about six hours.
Freitag said it was unfortunate the Supreme Court did not provide a time period—at least 24 hours—to transition out of the statewide safer-at-home order.
Here are more of Freitag’s responses during a Friday interview:
Gazette: Why did the city choose to comply with Rock County’s safer-at-home order?
Freitag: The city respects the rule of law, he said.
Rock County’s public health officer has the authority to issue such an order, and the city will continue to follow any lawful orders made by officials.
Those who do not agree with the decision should reach out to their local officials, he said.
While in the military, Freitag traveled to many countries where people do not respect laws. Americans should realize how lucky they are to live the way we do, he said.
”I would tell you people may not always appreciate what they have until they lose it.”
Gazette: Why didn’t the city issue its own order? Would that have been a consideration if the county did not step up?
Freitag: The county’s order included everything the city would have considered, and it makes sense to keep things consistent for as large a geographic area as possible, he said.
Freitag believes the city would have had to take some kind of action if the county didn’t do so.
City officials will send the county a set of recommendations they have for reopening the county.
Gazette: What do you say to those who think safer-at-home guidelines should be lifted entirely?
Freitag: He understands and sympathizes with people’s concerns. Some people will disagree no matter what decision is made, he said.
Officials have to balance protecting people’s lives with protecting their livelihoods, he said.
Everyone needs to apply common sense moving forward, Freitag said.
Gazette: Walworth County has chosen not to issue a safer-at-home order. Are you concerned this will cause issues in Rock County?
Freitag: A regional approach to safer-at-home orders and COVID-19 would be better than a county-by-county one, he said. He prefers to see cooperation across southcentral Wisconsin.
The chance for exposure to the disease will be greater in Walworth County, and Freitag said he is concerned about people bringing the disease into Janesville and Rock County.
Gazette: Public testing sites opened up in Beloit this week. Are they a possibility for Janesville?
Freitag: Janesville is planning for public testing sites but has to work out the logistics.
Anyone can go to the public testing sites in Beloit, and Freitag encourages Janesville residents to do so if they think they are sick.
Janesville will monitor how things go in Beloit and decide how to move forward from there.
Gazette: Beloit officials have addressed the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Hispanic and Latino population. Is that a concern in Janesville?
Freitag: Data from the county health department show 10.11% of Janesville cases are in Hispanic or Latino individuals. The city’s population is 5.4% Hispanic or Latino.
City officials were surprised to see that data and do not know why the Hispanic community has been affected that way, he said.
The city has a bilingual emergency operations center staffer who is working with people in Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities to increase education and awareness, he said.
Freitag said the data are good to have but are another source of frustration with city-county information-sharing. The data he receives is limited and doesn’t paint a full picture, he said.
City officials are also concerned about the elderly population. People age 65 and older make up 16% of the city’s population but represent 24% of COVID-19 cases.