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RACINE, WI – Schools within the City of Racine Public Health Department, including Racine, Wind Point, and Elmwood Park, have been ordered to close and switch to virtual learning.

Part of the Safer Racine ordinance, the order takes effect on November 27 and is expected to last through January 15, according to a press release issued by the City of Racine.

The order applies to public and private schools. Most Racine Unified students have been doing virtual classes since the beginning of the school year, but teachers and some special education students have been in the schools. Racine Unified employs about 1,000 teachers.

Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the City of Racine Public Health Administrator, said the number of daily cases and positivity rates prompted the order.

“Outbreaks are linked to family gatherings on private property with people from outside of their household, including sports parties, baby showers, and backyard gatherings.  Also, through retail establishments and employment situations,” she said. 

The health department jurisdiction includes Elmwood Park, Wind Point, and the City of Racine. It applies to all schools, public and private.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations at ‘unprecedented’ levels

The number of cases and hospitalizations has skyrocketed over the past week.

In the City of Racine, the health department reported 680 new cases at a positivity rate of over 35 percent and two new deaths over the past seven days.

Racine County has seen a similar surge, and hospitals are now running out of beds, primarily because the staff is getting ill, said Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, during a media briefing call held Thursday.

“COVID-19 everywhere in our state is bad everywhere. And it’s getting worse everywhere. It is straining hospitals, and people are dying,” she said. “As of yesterday, every county in Wisconsin has recorded at least one death from COVID-19, our hospitals are strange. We have set a new record for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients every day that’s why only 8% of ICU beds are available.”

With the holiday season coming up, gatherings are prevalent, which poses an opportunity for more community spread of the virus, Bowersox said.

“Over the last 9 months after every major holiday, significant spikes in positive cases occur because individual gatherings in private residences do not implement the necessary precautions to ensure that they and others do not contract the virus,” she said. “Given that, the Public Health Department fully expects to see a sharp increase in cases yet again between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Currently, schools remain one of the largest gathering places within our jurisdiction, and after the holidays, those children and staff could become super-spreaders in the community.” 

The order means that teachers and students will not be allowed in school buildings for teaching and learning. Racine Unified canceled its in-person classes at the beginning of the school year. But teachers were required to come to the schools to teach. Also, some special education students did have in-person classes. This order prohibits that.

Emily DeBaker, director of communication for RUSD, the district is “reviewing the order and working through the details.”

The district plans to share more details after administrators have been able to review the order, she said.

Bowersox called the decision a “difficult one.”

“Combating COVID-19 requires everyone to take personal responsibility for their actions, and the recognition that inconveniences now, like wearing a mask properly and not participating in family gatherings outside of your immediate household, are necessary to protect public health and save lives.”

Individuals who test positive for the COVID-19 virus are reminded to: 

  • Stay home and isolate for a minimum of 10 days after symptom onset. 
  • If you did not have symptoms and were tested, remain isolated for ten days from the date of testing. 
  • You can return to work or school on day 11 if free of fever and see an improvement in other symptoms for 24 hours. 
  • Notify your employer or school if you are positive. 
  • Notify your close contacts and ask them to quarantine for 14 days from the last day of contact with you.

The rising number of positive cases means that the Racine Health Department may not notify employers of positive cases among employees. The department also will not verify that the employees return to work. Employers are asked to discuss return-to-work dates with their employees.

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.

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