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Looking to contain the COVID-19 virus early, Governor Tony Evers, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Racine Mayor Cory Mason declared a health emergency for the state, Racine County and the City of Racine.

The state has six confirmed cases and Kenosha County also has two pending cases, according to Fox 6 News.

The purpose of the declarations: to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the community.

The virus spreads mainly from person to person. Originating in China, health experts have signaled concern because little is known about the virus. It can cause severe illness and pneumonia in some individuals. Symptoms — which can be mild to severe — may appear two to 14 days after exposure. They include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

Health officials say early interventions can help slow the spread of the disease.

The proclamation allows the Department of Health Services to act as the lead agency and take necessary measures to prevent and respond to incidents. It also authorizes the state to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to help with the state’s response to the emergency. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protention is also authorized to enforce laws related to price gouging during an emergency.

Read the proclamation.

Following the announcement by Evers, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave also issued an emergency declaration in Racine County.

Read the media release from Racine CountyDownload

“Racine County is closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and is in frequent communication with our local health departments. Safety is our top priority and we are taking all steps possible to protect the public and our employees,” Delagrave said. “We are encouraging Racine County residents to exercise appropriate precautions and take steps to ensure the safety of themselves and their families.”

Among the steps Racine County is taking in response to the outbreak:

• Preordering an extra supply of shelf-stable food for home-bound seniors served in the county’s Senior Nutrition (Meals on Wheels) program, as well as juvenile detention and Racine County Jail.

• Working with health departments on social distancing measures, which could include eliminating most group meetings and postponing them, shifting them to individual sessions, or arranging virtual meetings.

• Encouraging people doing business at county buildings to be prepared to make alternative arrangements to meet in person.

• People with court affairs are encouraged to contact the Clerk of Courts to discuss alternative arrangements.

City of Racine Mayor Cory Mason said the reason for the emergency declration was to help prevent the spread of the viruse.

“This is about changing behavior, and creating some inconveniences but not inciting panic,” Mason said. “We want residents to remain calm and take steps to ensure the safety of themselves and their families.”

Preparing for COVID-19

At the local level, the Central Racine County Health Department and Racine County Health Department underscored the need for the public to expect more cases of the disease and be prepared.

If an outbreak happens, it could have an impact for a long time, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Depending on how severe the outbreak is, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce people’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19. These actions can slow the spread and reduce the impact of disease,” according to the CDC website.

Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the director of the City of Racine Health Department said that people at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 should start to prepare now. This includes older adults, people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

  • Have enough household items, groceries, and medications on hand so that you will be
    prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between themselves and others.
  • When going out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible. People at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 include older adults and people with a serious chronic medical condition like heart
    disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

Schools starting to take pre-emptive measures

In a pre-emptive effort to minimize the potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus, the Racine Unified School District and several universities have started to implement policies intended to minimize the spread of the virus.

Officials with the Racine Unified School District announced Thursday morning that they are adopting the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) limited fans policy for all events, which is similar to the NCAA ruling. Taking their cue from the World Health Organization, the policy limits the attendance at all winter tournament events, which are scheduled March 12 through March 14 and March 19 through March 21.

Read the WIAA press release.

The restriction applies to the boys’ basketball sectional semi-final and final games, the State Girls Basketball Tournament, and the State Boys Basketball Tournament. Guidelines call for a restriction on the atendance at public events, keeping them to 50 to 250 attendees. The restriction varies by the event and venue.

“The WIAA has been keeping up with public health and medical updates and has recognized the changing environment over the past 24 hours,” Executive Director Dave Anderson said. “As good and responsible citizens, we are adhering to policies consistent with preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

This includes The Case Eagles’ playoff basketball game at Milwaukee South and the game that Washington Park High School is hosting between West Allis Central and Kenosha Tremper. For those games, only student-athletes’ immediate family members will be able to attend the game.

Carthage College to extend spring break

Officials with Carthage College plan to extend spring break by one week and will start remote teaching starting March 23.

Remote teaching and learning will continue through April 9. Carthage’s Easter break was set for April 10 through April 13. Regular classroom instruction starts Tuesday, April 14. Officials said they will continue to monitor the spread of the virus to confirm that this will be possible and to make other adjustments if necessary.

From the City of Racine Health Department

In coordination with the State and County states of emergency declared today, the Central Racine County Health Department (CRCHD) and City of Racine Public Health Departments (CoRPHD) ask the public to follow the latest State and Federal guidance.

  • Limit non-essential large community events and gatherings of 250 or more people.
  • Those who provide gathering activities for older adults, such as senior centers and congregate dining facilities, plan for alternative ways to remain engaged with them that minimize their risk.
  • Avoid all non-essential travel according to CDC travel guidelines. For domestic travel, DHS recommends against all non-essential travel to any U.S state where the CDC deems there is sustained community transmission of COVID-19.
  • For all travelers returning to Wisconsin from high-risk areas including U.S. locations, DHS recommends that those individuals self-quarantine at home for 14 days and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Create a household plan of action in case of illness in the household or disruption of daily activities due to COVID-19 in the community.
  • Consider 2-week supply for prescription and over the counter medications, food, and other essentials
  • Establish ways to communicate with others (e.g. family, friends, co-workers)
  • Establish plans to telework, what to do about childcare needs, how to adapt to cancellation of events
  • People should follow simple steps to avoid getting sick, including frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your face, staying home when sick.
  • Currently, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Racine County, but testing has increased, and public health officials anticipate there will be coronavirus cases in the County. CRCHD and CoRPHD have been coordinating with local area healthcare providers to ensure people tested for COVID-19 receive appropriate public health follow up. As part of this follow-up, both health departments are asking people to be isolated or quarantined based on current State and Federal guidance. The Racine County Health Departments will communicate risk to the public, places of business, schools and other community settings in the event that exposure is confirmed.
  • For people who are ill and suspect they may have coronavirus, they should call their healthcare provider.
  • Racine County health departments do not have tests or testing capacity.
  • At this time the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Racine County health departments are not recommending school closures as part of this guidance. Decisions about the implementation of community measures will be made by state and local officials based on CDC and DHS guidance, as well as the scope of the outbreak.

All actions taken by CRHCD and CoRPHD are in coordination with the DHS and CDC guidance and local leaders.

CDC resource links

What to do if you get sick

Steps to prevent illnes

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.