RACINE, WI – Racine County Circuit Court Judge Jon Frederickson nixed the City’s COVID-19 protective order called the Racine Forward plan.
Fredrickson issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the City from executing the Racine Forward order. In the filing, he cited a civil suit filed by the owners of Harbor Park Crossfit against the City and the city’s health department.
Owner David Yandel filed the complaint on May 21. In it, he argued that the Racine Forward ordinance is unconstitutional, would cause his business to lose customers, and ultimately close. It’s the second time a local judge has overruled city efforts to impose health restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would limit us to 25 percent capacity,” Corian Yandel told a reporter with Fox 6.
A hotspot with a rate of COVID-19 cases of over 1,000 cases per 100,000 people, the city has seen its rate of new cases slow down to a trickle over the past week.
City officials, judge disagree over COVID-19 protective order
City officials first tried adopting COVID-19 public health restrictions on May 13, only to have a local judge halt Racine’s order on Friday.
Frederickson called the Racine Forward plan “troubling” and “unconstitutional” because it directly impacted how quickly many businesses can open up.
“The City of Racine has engaged in a direct attack on this Court’s order by incorporating the enjoined substance of the Forward Racine order into an ordinance, and then claiming the right to enforce the enjoined language through a new ordinance, despite this Court’s order,” Frederickson wrote in a supplemental, temporary injunction order.
During the oral arguments, the City argued that the City of Racine Health Department had the right to issue the COVID-19 protective order.
In response to Frederickson’s decision, Racine Mayor Cory Mason issued the following statement:
“This ruling is extremely troubling,” Racine Mayor Cory Mason said. “Local governments have a clear and longstanding ability and authority to enact ordinances to protect the health and well-being of our residents. That has never been more needed than now, in the midst of this pandemic.”
Alderwoman Natalia Taft said that she was disappointed by the ruling.
“Decisions regarding public health should be made using a scientific approach with the most up-to-date and accurate data,” Taft said. “The ordinance we passed empowered the Public Health Department to do just that, with well-defined metrics and timelines, as well as appropriate oversight by elected officials.”
Health officials, however, believe the decision will serve as the wrong signal to the community.
Medical College of Wisconsin president concerned about mixed messages
In an exclusive interview with the Racine County Eye, Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of the Medical College of Wisconsin, said it’s unfortunate that COVID-19 has become so politicized.
He pointed to the county as having one of the highest infection rates in the state.
“Racine County has a little over 2,100 cases as of yesterday,” he said. “So it is one of the areas of the state that has the highest burden of COVID-19 and the 1,078 cases per 100,000 residents exceeds Brown County, which is one of the nationally publicized hotspots.”
Raymond raised concerns over the mixed messages these decisions would have on public behavior. Loosening up government restrictions has hurt other states, including Florida, which is among several states that have seen a surge in cases.
“I think the loosening of some of the government restrictions has hurt us. And because these issues have become politicized, it’s been difficult for people to get good information about what they can do to protect themselves,” he said.
But Raymond also pointed out that Wisconsin has more testing capacity, medical professionals know how to take care of COVID-19 patients better, and they also know who is most at risk. Still, he said the municipalities and states that implemented the restrictions slowed the spread of the virus early on in the pandemic.
“Now, that those government orders have been ruled unconstitutional, we’re going to have to rely on individual behavior to do the right thing to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 down,” he said.
Read more: COVID-19 Safety Tips
Listen to Raymond’s interview with the Racine County Eye: