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COVID Cases Increasingly Impact Business Operations

Cases are mild, but testing delays caused by strained resources put business owners in a bind

The rise in positive COVID-19 tests in September is taking a toll on northern Door County businesses. After making it through the summer without a large spike in cases, the county has seen numbers climb rapidly in September. The cases have resulted in few hospitalizations and no deaths, but the spike has caused many businesses to close temporarily, and some for the rest of the season. 

On Sept. 16, Pheasant Park Resort notified customers that it was temporarily closing after two employees tested positive and two more exhibited symptoms. Manager Peter Northard said he expects to be closed for about a week to ensure that his staff members are safe and healthy.

“It’s a difficult proposition, but the health and safety of our guests and staff is our absolute number-one priority,” Northard said. 

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Resort staff were busy last week notifying guests that reservations would be canceled, and Destination Door County and the Sister Bay Advancement Association were assisting guests in finding new places to stay. Pheasant Park has 58 suites. 

Northard said the resort employs about 20 people, and with staff members working closely, he felt it was imperative to err on the side of caution. Current guests were given the choice to finish their stay, and Northard said no one chose to leave early. The positive tests are not believed to be related to the staff members’ work at Pheasant Park.

Three Sister Bay restaurants have already chosen to close for the season: Northern Grill, Analog and Grasse’s Grill closed after Labor Day. Husby’s, the Sister Bay Bowl, and Boathouse on the Bay all chose to close temporarily at different points this summer when staff members tested positive or came in contact with people who had. 

In Fish Creek, The Cookery, Barringer’s and White Gull Inn closed last week after some employees tested positive, as did Hügel Haus in Ellison Bay. 

Those closures come shortly after Bearded Heart, Glidden Lodge, Trixie’s and Pearl Wine Cottage closed temporarily when employees tested positive or staff members came into close contact with someone who had. 

The number of positive tests in Door County rose to 264 on Sept. 22, including 128 reported since Sept. 1, and 29 on Sept. 22 alone. The county now has 92 cases that are considered active. Door County Public Health Manager Sue Powers told the county’s Health and Human Services Committee last week that many of the cases have been traced to private parties, family gatherings and weddings. Businesses have not been the epicenter for outbreaks in Door County. 

“When we’ve had them in restaurants, it has usually been just a couple of cases,” Powers said. 

But the surge in cases is already taxing the local hospital’s ability to keep up with testing. Meredith Coulson-Kanter, owner of the White Gull Inn, said some of her staff members who were tested Sept. 21 would not get results back for seven days. 

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“In the meantime, we’re told we have to keep all these people quarantined for 14 days,” she said. “We’ve had months to prepare for this, and now, when we have just a few days of rising positives, we’ve fallen so far behind.”

Coulson-Kanter said the situation has put her and other business owners in a bind.

“I need to know if it has started to spread within our restaurant staff,” she said. “I would like at least a few people to get tests back before I ask them to come back to work. I don’t think Public Health has a real understanding of how restaurants work. Everyone is in close contact. And I don’t think they realize the extent of the fallout from that when you tell someone they can’t get a test.”

“Most businesses badly want to do the right thing. One of the things they feel – and that the public feels – is that everybody can get tested. If we feel they should, that is what we recommend.” 

SUE POWERS, DOOR COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH MANAGER

Dr. Jim Heise, chief medical officer at Door County Medical Center, said demand for tests is straining resources. 

“We’re blowing up with positive cases, so we’re trying to make sure we’re testing the people who are most necessary,” Heise said. “Often, you don’t want to test right away because it can take time for the virus to show up. You want to wait seven days. We’re not testing asymptomatic [people] because the yield isn’t so high, and demand for testing is so high. If we had unlimited resources and unlimited testing, [we would], but for any disease, you want to make sure you’re testing at the right time. Because if not, it’s not helpful.”

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Powers said her department has brought on four new contact tracers, but that team was reaching capacity by Sept. 18. 

“We probably won’t get to everyone we’d like to get to today,” she said Friday. 

Powers said contact tracing has been difficult for several reasons: The rising caseload has stretched staff; some people who have tested positive have not cooperated; and some people simply don’t have any idea where they contracted the virus. 

Powers said the health department is instructing people to get tested seven to 14 days after their last close contact with a person who tested positive, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Most businesses badly want to do the right thing,” Powers said. “One of the things they feel – and that the public feels – is that everybody can get tested. If we feel they should, that is what we recommend.” 

Though cases are rising, the severity of most cases has been very mild. Powers said Tuesday that there have been 13 COVID-related hospitalizations in Door County since the pandemic began.

“All of the positives I’ve called for eight weeks have had mild illness, which I think has a lot to do with wearing masks and getting less virus in,” Heise said Sept. 18. “They have a couple days of feeling pretty crappy. We’ve had one or two hospitalizations in the last month.”

He said that when you have less virus getting into the body, you don’t suffer as severe of an illness. Heise said he’s frustrated by those who claim the mild cases are the result of “fake positive” tests. 

“It’s like the spoiled child trying to use any excuse possible to avoid doing their chores,” he said.

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