Precautions businesses and event organizers have put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 will not be as effective if people don't follow guidelines, according to the Douglas County Health Department.
Many events have been canceled this year due to the pandemic, but not all. Races have been taking place at the Gondik Law Speedway in Superior since May 21 with health protocols in place. None of the county's positive cases of COVID-19 has been linked to the speedway, said Kathy Ronchi, Douglas County Public Health officer.
The Head of the Lakes Fair kicked off Tuesday, July 21 in Superior, and Bowfest began Thursday, July 23 at Mont du Lac Resort. Both are expected to run through Sunday, July 26. Organizers of the events worked with the health department to put precautions in place, Ronchi said, from checking temperatures and making hand sanitizer and masks available to limiting ticket sales for music events, monitoring capacity in buildings and utilizing one-way foot traffic.
“I do feel like they’ve set the stage really well to lower the risk,” Ronchi said.
But she said it’s up to attendees to make those precautions work.
“We’re holding the businesses responsible, now we’ve got to hold people responsible, too,” Ronchi said.
Stay home if you’re sick or have had contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, she said. People should also use the hand sanitizers and space themselves out in line.
“These are just really, really simple strategies if people will follow them,” Ronchi said.
The number of COVID-19 positive cases have been rising by about 15 per week in July, Ronchi said, and the majority of them — about two-thirds — are people who had been quarantined following community exposure weeks ago.
"We’re still seeing cases linked to Father’s Day,” she said, and there hasn’t been a big bump in cases related to Fourth of July activities.
Some of the delay can be attributed to the warm, humid weather, she said. People are spending time outside where transmission risk is lower, and the humidity is causing droplets in their respiration to fall instead of carry.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been thankful for humidity in the area,” Ronchi said.
More guidance for schools on the horizon
School districts in the county have been taking guidance from the health department as they prepare reopening plans. Both Maple and Superior school boards approved hybrid learning plans this week, with the understanding that they remain flexible. Additional guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Centers for Disease Control is expected this week, Ronchi said. Solon Springs is nearing the final draft stage of its plan to return to school, which has been guided in part by parent and staff surveys.
“We want to protect the safety of our students, staff and community members by implementing strategies that are practical, feasible and locally acceptable,” said Superintendent Frank Helquist.
The school plans that have been approved are doable, Ronchi said. The biggest challenge will be the 6-foot social distancing requirements, she said.
Parents, students and staff can help lower the COVID-19 risk at school by avoiding high-risk places and staying home if they’re sick.
“Let’s be mindful of what you’re doing outside of school, because what we put in place in school, is only as good as what people are doing out of school,” Ronchi said.
Both the Maple and Superior school reopen plans include mask use when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. It will be strongly encouraged in Maple, but required in Superior. The Superior City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution mandating mask use for public indoor spaces in the city. Ronchi said mask use clearly helps reduce transmission risk, particularly if both parties are wearing one. But she said she’s concerned about the terminology.
“When you mandate something, you have to enforce it, and what will that look like?” Ronchi said.
Mask use has become a point of contention with strong emotions on both sides, but stopping the spread of COVID-19 isn’t dependent on just one strategy, she said.
“Everyone’s attention is on who’s wearing a mask and who’s not, and you’re missing some of those other things that are just as important,” Ronchi said.