Buffalo, Trempealeau counties respond to Supreme Court ruling


Buffalo and Trempealeau counties rushed this week to issue local recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 after the state’s shelter-in-place order was abruptly eliminated. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s “Safer at Home” order, immediately lifting all restrictions on businesses that had been forced to close. County officials urged citizens to continue social distancing even as some local businesses opened their doors.

In Fountain City, Bluff Siding, Centerville, and Arcadia, some restaurants and bars opened, while others remained closed. “We are open for dining in! Let's celebrate,” one Centerville restaurant posted on Facebook. A Buffalo County restaurant posted it would remain closed to protect customers’ and workers’ safety. Another restaurant in Fountain City wrote, “Opening our upper deck for dining this evening, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Social distancing will mean limited tables and four per table only.” They added, “We'll see how this works tonight …”

Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ administration’s “Safer at Home” order shuttered non-essential businesses through May 26 and required Wisconsinites to stay at home, except to run essential errands or work in essential industries. The Republican-led legislature challenged the order as an overreach by the executive branch, and the Supreme Court ruled Evers’ administration must seek legislative approval for any new rules. In the meantime, the court’s decision brings some relief to struggling businesses and workers, but leaves Wisconsin without statewide regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19. Many local governments across Wisconsin issued their own recommendations or rules in response.

For now, Buffalo and Trempealeau counties have responded with recommendations, not hard-and-fast rules. A Trempealeau County Health Department staff member said Trempealeau County was working on rules and expected to release them this weekend on its website and social media. For now, Buffalo County Public Health Officer April Loeffler said her department was only issuing guidelines, not requirements. “We’ll watch closely the situation to see if there’s any interventions we need to do to address it,” she added.

“Regrettably, the state of Wisconsin and Buffalo County are not ready to go back to ‘business as usual,’” Loeffler wrote in a press release urging citizens to minimize physical contact with others. “A complete return to pre-COVID function will result in a dramatic rise in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths … To prevent this, we must work together to respond in a united, informed way that balances livelihood with saving lives.”

“Trempealeau County is not ready to return to normal, pre-COVID function,” Trempealeau County Public Health Officer Barb Barczak echoed in a press release. “This will result in an increase in positive cases in our county, overwhelming our public health, emergency responder, and health care systems. We are concerned as we have seen an increase from four to seven people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in 10 days while the safer-at-home order was in place. In light of this situation, Trempealeau County is issuing general guidelines for all Trempealeau County residents.”

When people are close together, the potentially deadly coronavirus spreads through air people breathe; it also spreads through people touching contaminated surfaces and then their mouth or eyes. People can be contagious without showing any symptoms. For those who do experience symptoms, they may include cough, shortness of breath or difficult breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell.

“We are a small county with limited resources, relying heavily on volunteer and on-call emergency medical responders,” Barczak wrote. “These are our families, friends, and neighbors. Please protect them and the people they come home to by following all of these sensible guidelines: Stay home if you are sick, avoid gathering with more than 10 people who do not live in your household, observe physical distancing of six feet between yourself and others, wear a mask or face covering in all public settings, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow, [and] avoid touching your face.”

The Buffalo County Health Department asked citizens to “stay at home if you are sick, minimize close physical contact with those outside of your household, minimize travel and keep in mind COVID-19 activity varies by location, wear a fabric face covering if you must be in public, maintain six-foot distances with others whenever possible, minimize congregating in groups of any size, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, [and] avoid touching your face.”

Both counties encouraged businesses to follow guidance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on how to operate safely and prevent the spread of COVID-19.



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