Door County Public Health Extends Safer at Home

Following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Safer at Home directive on Wednesday, Door County Public health reinstated it locally on Thursday late afternoon.

Susan Powers, Door County Public Health officer, issued the order that continues the guidelines and requirements of Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order. The local order is effective immediately and extends through Wednesday, May 20, just before midnight.

“This order is reasonable, necessary and is being issued to continue control, prevention and suppression of COVID-19, and will protect the health and well-being of individuals,” according to the order.

Between now and May 20, Door County Public Health will develop long-term guidance modeled after the Badger Bounce Back plan, which guidance will be issued no later than 5 p.m. on May 20.

The local order also acknowledges the most recent state orders that dialed back restrictions on some businesses, such as small retail shops.

Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas advised the Door County Board during a special meeting Thursday that the local public health order would bring clarity by bridging the gap between “the sudden demise of Safer at Home.” Were it not ordered, “we’ll be flying without any regulation in place,” he said.

Republican legislators had challenged the Safer at Home order that Andrea Palm, Secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services (DHS), had issued on March 24 that all people within Wisconsin remain in their homes, not travel and to close nonessential businesses.

The court, in a 4-3 decision, said Palm broke the law when she issued that order based upon the technical way she put it into place. Palm contended she issued it as an order, not a rule, and therefore was fully authorized by the powers of the Legislature assigned to DHS under Wisconsin statutes.

Republican legislators asserted, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Palm’s directive was a rule — and rules are subject to statutory emergency rulemaking procedures established by the legislature.

“We do not conclude that Palm was without any power to act in the face of this pandemic,” the Supreme Court decision said. “However, Palm must follow the law that is applicable.”

House and Senate leaders are now working with the Governor on how to move forward following the Supreme Court’s decision, said Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay).

“But that will take time,” he told county supervisors Thursday morning, and “really what’s going to happen is it will fall on local governments.”

 Kitchens said he believed that was “the right way to go” because rules made “closer to home are best” and “public health definitely has the authority to close businesses and enforcement can enforce that.”

State statute gives “broad powers to local health officials when it comes to communicable disease,” Powers told the board Thursday prior to drafting the order.

Even before the “sudden end of Safer at Home,” Powers said they have had the busiest week since the start of the pandemic. Positive COVID-19 tests came from both Culver’s and McDonald’s in Sturgeon Bay. Both restaurants voluntarily closed, with contract tracing and more testing taking place.

Powers said Door County now has 29 confirmed COVID cases, six of those cases new this morning. Nine of the 29 have recovered, three have died, and no one is currently hospitalized for COVID-19. There have been 516 negative tests, with 110 test results pending.

Powers said Door County Medical Center had stepped up its testing capacity to assist with the testing following the positives at the restaurants.

“We have stretched them considerably,” she said.

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