As push to reopen mounts, infections increase

County loses ground in fight to curb Covid-19 cases; one area bar owner pledges to open this week
Ozaukee Press staff

As pressure mounts to reopen businesses as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the number of Covid-19 cases in Ozaukee County is increasing.

“The last seven days, it’s been ticking up,” Washington Ozaukee Health Officer Kirsten Johnson said Tuesday. “It’s (happening) all over. We think it’s just because people are starting to mix, and with more mixing there’s more risk and more virus transmission.

“We anticipated there was going to be a spike as restrictions were lifted.”

The increase is significant enough that the county, which last week met three of its four gating criteria — used to help track the virus and determine if it is safe to reopen — now only meets two of the criteria, Johnson said.

The two criteria it doesn’t meet are 14 days of continuous decreases in positive cases as a percentage of total tests and testing availability.

Even before Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday that small retail businesses could open with a limited number of customers, some area shops have opened and social distancing hasn’t necessarily been observed.

Restaurant and bar owners and their employees remain anxious to open. Chad Arndt, owner of the Iron Hog in the Town of Port Washington, said Monday that he planned to open his bar and restaurant Wednesday afternoon.

“I have no choice,” Arndt said. “My business is going to go under. My employees are hurting.

“I’m not doing this to upset people. I’m doing it to support my employees. I have to get money back in my employees’ pockets,” he said. 

Some local shops have been open without following the guidelines, which may be a factor in the increasing number of Covid-19 cases. 

But despite the increased number of infections, there hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of tests administered in Ozaukee County, Johnson said, even as he state is placing an increased emphasis on testing and free testing sites are being set up in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

“In my view, we should be working toward sustained (testing) capacity,” she said, not one-time events. 

But, Johnson said, the county is working to set up a mass testing clinic in late May or early June, after Memorial Day.

Last week, the number of confirmed cases in Ozaukee County was 100, and by Monday evening that number had jumped to 111.

The number of negative tests was 1,056 and there have been 10 deaths in the county attributed to the coronavirus.

Johnson said the county has done well in terms of following Evers’ Safer at Home order, but noted that as time goes on and the weather gets warmer, people are anxious to get out and mingle.

And, with small stores opening, Johnson said, the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 is sure to continue to increase.

“I would expect we will continue to see things opened,” she said, noting that situations have been changing rapidly.

“The speed of change has our heads spinning, it happens so fast,” Johnson said.

“As government turns the dial, things will be opened and I think the message is that Safer at Home still stands — at least today.”

If people mingle without observing the Safer at Home guidelines of social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks, Johnson said, the number of people infected with Covid-19 will increase, medical facilities may be overwhelmed and the health department won’t be able to keep up with testing and contact tracing.

Contact tracing is key to preventing outbreaks by notifying people who may have been exposed and having them quarantine for two weeks, thereby halting the spread of the virus.

As they open, Johnson said, businesses should look at ways to ensure customers and employees remain safe.

“Really, it’s physically distancing, trying to keep patrons separate,” she said. “Think about how people pay, the handling of money and credit cards and how to make that as safe as possible. Wear masks.”

Her department, she said, is willing to work with businesses as they reopen.

“I hope our small businesses know we’re here as a resource,” Johnson said.

Some people question why the state is not allowing facilities such as hair salons to reopen. Johnson said it’s probably because of sustained contact between hairdressers and customers, who are closer than six feet for a sustained period of time, often 20 minutes or more.

Similarly, in restaurants and bars people come within six feet of one another for more than 20 minutes at a time, she said.

“The other challenge is contact tracing,” she said, since people sitting at tables and in chairs around others can’t always be identified.

But business owners and their employees are restless and want to get back to work so they can pay their bills and get on with life.

Arndt said it’s not just his business that’s suffering, it’s also his employees. He has two full-time and seven part-time workers who have applied for unemployment but have yet to be paid.

Arndt decided to open after May 11, he said, because that’s the day he believes the governor no longer has the authority to impose his Safer at Home order.

Arndt said he has polled a number of people in the area and his decision is being greeted by “more than overwhelming support.”

“A lot of people feel the same way I do. A lot of people are sick of being told what to do ... for no apparent reason,” he said.

Arndt said it’s frustrating to watch large big-box stores open while small businesses like his are forced to remain closed.

Arndt said he is taking steps to ensure his customers and staff remain safe. He’s limiting the number of people allowed in the building to half its capacity, isn’t having live music through May and is going to observe social distancing where it makes sense.

“We will distance people who aren’t coming in together,” he said, noting that it makes no sense to keep couples and families that live together sitting at a distance. People can wear a mask or not, as they prefer, he said.

He’s not worried that authorities will shut down his business, Arndt said.

“I know I’ll get some backlash,” he said. “If people don’t feel well or safe, they should stay home. Just please respect my opinion and feeling and let us start to work again.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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