HUDSON -- The St. Croix County board voted unanimously to extend its COVID-19 emergency declaration for an additional six months at its regular board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1.

The emergency declaration was set to expire at the end of this year.

Unlike the state emergency declaration, which focuses on the public, the county ordinance is geared more internally, Interim Administrator Ken Witt explained. It gives the county administrative team additional authority to modify policy and focuses on how the county runs its organization.

In the last month, Witt has used the additional authority to allow employees to use long-term sick banks for when a child had to stay home but was not ill, and also to extend excess hours pay to salaries of public safety employees using contract tracing grant dollars.

COVID-19 communication plan

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The county is focused on delivering informative, engaging and consistent communication to promote the health and wellbeing of St. Croix County, public information officer Adam Kastonek told the board.

The audience for county communication includes county residents, employees, municipalities, chambers and businesses, local hospitals and local media. The county has produced letters, blog posts, press releases, regular social media posts and presentations and updates to local communities.

Communication efforts work closely with the Public Health Department to ensure information is accurate.

“The work that we have done so far has really laid the foundation of how we can grow our communication efforts,” Kastonek said.

The core messaging will remain the same, but the county is going to build on its efforts by creating content that is more relatable, inclusive and reaches a larger audience, Kastonek said.

While data is important, the county will now work on sharing a more people-centered approach that tells more of the pandemic story. The county also will produce live and recorded video and leverage its direct mail to reach a larger audience.

Supervisor Judy Achterhof asked what the source of the information is, and how the county will handle discrepancies between what people believe are best and most accurate sources.

The county relies on its health department as well as the state department of health and CDC for information.

“We have been very consistent in the info that we’ve shared and the sources that we pull from,” Kastonek said.

They recognize people are getting information from other sources, and staff will make an attempt to do a better job to understand that information to see how it aligns or conflicts.

Links to source data will be available with county communications.

Supervisor Paul Berning asked what the budgeting will look like, as direct mail can be effective but is not cheap.

Direct mail will be used sparingly, Kastonek said. The county will also be using online promotions, and will start small to see what’s working and grow from there.

Out of the county’s budget, Witt said direct mailing is not a large part of it and money can be found in special projects for it.

County numbers

Daily case rates have been trending down over the last week, returning to under 100 cases a day. The county currently has 2,249 active cases.

Hospitalizations are at 49, with 28 residents hospitalized in the county and 21 hospitalized outside of the county. Deaths are at 21.