HUDSON -- As daily new cases climbed over 100, the St. Croix County Health and Human Services board approved recommending a new COVID-19 ordinance at its Nov. 11 meeting. The matter now goes to the County Board.
This ordinance would give the county’s public health officer authority to issue a face-covering order or a public gathering limitation of 25%.
In the ordinance, the public health officer is given this authority if the county is in the red risk level in the Harvard Global Health Institutes metric. The county is currently well into that level.
HHS board members agreed to add a sunset date of Jan. 31, 2021 to the order.
Corporate counsel Scott Cox said this ordinance version addresses public concern that the previous version considered was too vague as to the ordinance’s powers, length and application. This new version gives specific and limited powers, has a set end date and is for COVID only, rather than general communicable disease.
Still, some spoke against the ordinance during public comment, again calling it an unconstitutional restriction of freedoms and a power grab. Others said now is the time for the county to act and slow the spread of the disease and protect the community, with some saying they preferred the previous version discussed as this one does not do enough.
County Supervisor Paulette Anderson said she did not agree with the $100 fine for enforcement. The county will be inundated with calls, she said, and the sheriff’s office and public health do not have the time or resources for enforcement.
HHS Board member Deb Lindemann questioned what the purpose of the ordinance would be without enforcement.
“We have to send some kind of message that this is serious and people have to take some responsibility,” Lindemann said.
Supervisor Scottie Ard agreed, but said the enforcement has to be greater than the $100 citation. With incidences rising, Ard said it is time for the county to act -- before the state or federal government comes in.
“With freedom comes responsibility, and that responsibility at this point in time is standing up and being brave enough to not just support the veterans but to go out and fight like they did,” she said.
The board discussed whether the public health officer should have powers in lower levels of risk as well.
“Red seems like we’re already in it, we’re already overwhelmed,” HHS Board member Natasha Ward said.
HHS Board member Dr. Paul McGinnis said he doesn’t think the county will get below the red level by the ordinance’s current sunset date.
The ordinance passed 7-1 by the Health and Human Services board, with Anderson voting against. It will go to the full county board at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Cases increasing dramatically
A dramatic rise in cases means the county is no longer able to perform contact tracing with positive cases, Public Health Administrator Kelli Engen told the HHS Board.
The county has stopped contact tracing for adults, and turned it over to the school districts for students.
The county instead will focus instead on contacting individuals who have tested positive only, though with such high cases even that is a struggle. Of the positive cases that came into the county on Sunday, the county just got to those 20-59 years olds on Wednesday.
“That is how much we are behind with prioritization,” Engen said.
St. Croix County has crossed the 3,000 mark for total cases confirmed, and is seeing a seven-day average of 87 new cases daily, epidemiologist Elle Klasen told the board at the Nov. 11 meeting.
Deaths were up to 16, and the total hospitalized was at 32. Both of those are an increase of 60% since she last updated the board on Oct. 21, Klasen said.
County officials are now meeting multiple times a week with chief nursing officers and other management of area hospitals to discuss patient load and capacity, Engen said. They are trying to do more lateral transfers within the area, rather than transferring to the Twin Cities, where capacity is an issue.
The trend in cases is “increasing dramatically,” she said. The confirmed cases by cases incidence, which is used to compare the county to other regions, is at 98.6. When she spoke three weeks ago, it was at 33.5
That puts the county well into the Harvard Global Health Institute’s red risk zone, which is greater than 25 case incidence.
The Wisconsin Department of Health has created a new level in their metric that goes beyond very high to critical. St. Croix County is at critically high in that metric, as is the state at a whole.
The Wisconsin National Guard testing in the county has found 201 positive cases out of 940 people tested at three events. This is a case positivity rate of 21.3%.
“With such a high number I think we are not doing enough testing because we are obviously missing disease with such a high positivity,” Klasen said.
The majority of cases are being seen in Hudson and New Richmond, though the disease has spread broadly throughout the county.
Spread is mainly community-acquired, at 34%. Other common reasons for spread are household contact, at 30%, and close contact, at 26%.
All age groups are seeing an increase in cases, but the largest is in the 20-59 age group, who are driving the spread.
“The trend being that the movement of these individuals in this age is bringing cases into the households,” Klasen said.
Of the 16 local deaths, all were above the 50-plus age range, with the most occurring in the 70-79 and 90-plus range.
McGinnis said the steepness of the county’s increase means there will be many more cases down the road, and the situation will get worse.
“This is not how bad it’s going to get," McGinnis said, “This is a stop on the road of how bad it’s going to get, and we don’t know how bad that is going to be.”