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RACINE – The City of Racine on Friday provided the first round of revisions to the Safer Racine ordinance to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The changes to the original June 22 ordinance goes into effect immediately.

The revisions – affecting the operations of commercial businesses, government offices, recreational facilities, and faith-based organizations – are based on a variety of factors. They include the daily percentage of positive COVID-19 tests, availability of healthcare resources and supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE). The Racine City Heath Department jurisdiction covers the City of Racine, the Village of Elmwood Park, and the Village of Wind Point.

Health officials plan to discuss the changes at a Board of Health meeting slated for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“There is no doubt that the necessary policies to limit the spread of the disease have caused adverse fiscal and day-to-day living challenges for Racine businesses and residents. The COVID-19 pandemic has also, without a doubt, presented our Health Care and Public Health experts with an unprecedented challenge not experienced in over a century (1918 Influenza),” Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox said in a prepared statement.

Why the need for revisions

The changes come on the heels of a slower rate of increased cases over the last two months. But community-wide testing over the past two months has also decreased dramatically in Racine. The Wisconsin National Guard shifted its focus in June to testing Racine County prisons, the Veterans Home in Union Grove, and manufacturing sites. While hospitals and some retail pharmacies are still offering tests, the Wisconsin National Guard has not held any testing events since July 1.

Of the 25,530 test samples collected since the beginning of the pandemic, 13,727, or 53 percent, were done by the Wisconsin National Guard. The City of Racine Public Health Department reported 1,519 positive cases. Of that, 126 of those are considered active cases, and 156 people in their jurisdiction have been hospitalized.

Still, the number of positive cases reported has decreased, but the rate of positive cases from the tests collected has doubled. And that trend is cause for caution, Bowersox said.

“We definitely had a decrease in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the City of Racine,” Bowersox said. “But at the same point, we’ve gone from a 3% to 6% (infection rate) in just in the last several days.”

Demand for testing over the past two months has also decreased in the City of Racine. The Wisconsin National Guard tested 4,000 residents at Festival Hall in May, but in June, they took 1,000 samples at Horlick High School.

“People are sick of COVID and they don’t want to do stuff anymore,” said Shannon Powell, communications director for the City of Racine.

That fatigue has also played out with businesses as the City tried to continue implementing a phased-in approach to re-opening companies, which led to a lawsuit being filed against the City. An appellate judge has since upheld the City’s position. These revisions to the Safer at Home plan allow health officials to continue that phased-in approach to re-opening the City.

“Every resident and employer must continue to do their part to slow the spread of the disease,” Bowersox said. “COVID-19 remains a highly infectious disease, regardless of pre-existing health conditions and age. This requires us to aggressively adhere to social distancing, practice proper hand hygiene, employ disinfection best practices, utilize face coverings, and limit interactions with large groups. The updates to Safer Racine can only be sustained if the metrics move in the right direction (e.g., fewer positive cases and fewer hospitalizations).

Safer Racine ordinance revisions

Although prior operating restrictions for the Safer Racine ordinance are loosened somewhat overall, the Safer Racine plan points out two red flags: The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests exceeds 10 percent. There has been either no change or an increase in COVID-19 in the five-day rolling average over the past 14 days.

Among the revisions taking effect Friday:

  • Indoor recreational facilities (including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, and dance studios) may now operate at 50 percent of indoor capacity if physical distancing of 6 feet can be maintained. The previous limit was 25 percent of indoor capacity or ten individuals, whichever is greater.
  • Faith-based services may now be open up to 50 percent of capacity if physical distancing of 6 feet can be maintained. The previous limit was based on a facility’s square footage.
  • Outdoor playground and skateboard parks may now be open.
  • Swimming pools may now operate at up to 25 percent of capacity if physical distancing can be maintained. The previous limit was ten people. Splash pads remain closed.
  • Restrooms and parking lots at public parks and beaches are now open.
  • Indoor places of arts and culture (including theaters and museums) may now be open up to 50 percent of the capacity to maintain physical distancing of 6 feet. The previous limit was based on a facility’s square footage.
  • Outdoor places of amusement (including zoos and farmers markets) may have up to 100 people on the premises if physical distancing of 6 feet can be maintained. The previous limit for special events was 25 people.

The next scheduled review for the Safer Racine ordinance is July 31, the city reported.

Read the Safer Racine plan and COVID-19 Symptoms.

“Safer Racine affirms that we have an opportunity to safely reopen and pursue the arduous journey of reinvigorating our Local Economy,” Bowersox said. “Every resident and employer must continue to do their part to slow the spread of the disease. COVID-19 remains a highly infectious disease, regardless of pre-existing health conditions and age.

“This requires us to aggressively adhere to social distancing, practice proper hand hygiene, employ disinfection best practices, utilize face coverings, and limit interactions with large groups. The updates to Safer Racine can only be sustained if the metrics move in the right direction (e.g., fewer positive cases and fewer hospitalizations). Safer Racine affirms that we have an opportunity to safely reopen and pursue the arduous journey of reinvigorating our Local Economy.”

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

Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...

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