EDITORIAL: It’s Past Time for Door County to Take This Virus Seriously

Door County has proven over and over again that we are unmatched when it comes to taking care of our neighbors and solving our problems. In the midst of the spread of COVID-19, one of the most effective ways we can help each other is by doing less for ourselves and more for each other.

The best guidance to slow the spread of the virus is to limit the number of people you interact with and to avoid crowds and public gatherings. It sounds drastic, maybe even impossible, but if it works, it will save lives. 

“Even if you’re healthy and strong, you now need to be willing to endure the inconvenience of social isolation because you could be carrying a virus that threatens the life of one of your more vulnerable friends and neighbors,” said Bret Bicoy, president and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation.

To date, there are 33 cases confirmed in Wisconsin. There are none in Door County to date, but there’s no reason to believe there won’t be, or that the virus isn’t here already, given the extremely limited testing that has been done. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said simply, “When you think you’re doing too much, you’re probably doing enough or not enough.” 

“If we don’t take action now, we’ll never get ahead of it,” said Liberty Grove Town Chair John Lowry. 

Illinois is shutting down bars and restaurants Monday. Ohio will close them tonight. Yes, the flu is rampant and kills many more than this virus has, but the flu has a vaccine and treatments. We don’t even have enough tests for COVID-19, and to date it has proven to be far deadlier than the flu if you contract it.

Jack Moneypenny, president and CEO of Destination Door County, said, “Anything we can do now to stop this virus from spreading will help us moving forward in the future.”

Individually, you don’t have to wait for orders from the president or the governor to take action. And you don’t have to look far for reasons to be overly cautious. 

Sister Bay is home to Good Samaritan Society–Scandia Village, where the parents and grandparents of a large portion of Northern Door’s community reside. The average age of residents there exceeds 90 years old. Fortunately, the facility has drastically curtailed who may enter the facility due to COVID-19 concerns.

But many of the staff who work there have children who go to area schools every day. Children they go home to when their shift ends, and children who, on Monday, will still go to school with hundreds of other children and staff members.

Schools won’t close until Wednesday, in accordance with Gov. Tony Evers’ order. 

We fear that’s too late. As Gibraltar School Board member Don Helm said at a special meeting Friday, “If you think you’re going to do something eventually, you might as well do it immediately.”

That especially makes sense at Gibraltar, where so many parents rely on elderly grandparents for child-care support, and where most children are packed onto school buses with drivers in higher-risk categories.

At Friday’s school board meeting, the parents in attendance sat several seats apart from each other, following social-distancing guidelines. Yet the school board did not, nor did the administrative staff. As board member Lauren Bremer said of social distancing, “If that’s what we’re asking our families to do, why are we not asking that of our kids?” 

Superintendents across the county are deferring to the guidance of the state, which trickles down from an administration that has dismissed the seriousness of the virus from the start. To date, that advice has proven to be too slow to control the spread.

As a doctor in one of the nation’s COVID-19 epicenters told me, “Maybe Door County will get lucky, but if not – buckle up.”

If a closure is the right call in three days, or when someone in the community tests positive, how is it not the right call now? Who feels confident that there isn’t already a person here who has the virus? Who wants to be the one in charge when it’s traced back to you, your school, or your bar or restaurant?

But it’s not just nursing homes we’re worried about. Or schools. It’s the rest of us who continue to approach the virus casually, continuing our normal routines and putting others at risk. 

In Door County, 29.8 percent of our population is older than 65. In northern Door County, that percentage is even higher, putting our community at particularly high risk if the COVID-19 virus spreads. Unlike many rural areas, we rely on transient visitors as the lifeblood of our economy. Even our slow winter months bring hundreds of vacationers and second-home owners to the peninsula each weekend to eat and drink in our bars and restaurants. 

Yet far too few of us are taking social distancing seriously, continuing to go about our routines, but maybe washing our hands a little more often, even though evidence from France, Italy, China, South Korea and now Seattle and New York shows that this is woefully insufficient. Still, that’s the message coming down from the top.

[What is real social distancing? Here’s a good primer>>]

On Friday, Gibraltar School Board President Mark Weborg dismissed concerns about COVID-19. He argued that because it doesn’t affect children, the school should not close. 

Though children and the young aren’t suffering the most critical cases, they are still carrying the virus and spreading it. In Belgium, the country is already in lockdown. Next door, France is facing a catastrophe, the death toll rising by the hour. Yesterday it was reported that of 300 critical cases in France, half of the patients were under the age of 50. In South Korea, where testing is far more widespread, people ages 20 to 29 make up the highest proportion of positive tests for COVID-19. They aren’t showing symptoms, but they’re spreading it

And on this peninsula, it’s not about a young person being a few contacts away from infecting an at-risk neighbor. Here, you basically can’t do anything without coming face to face with someone in the most at-risk category – older than 70, with underlying health conditions. And you’ll be doing that in a community with a very small number of hospital beds to treat them. 

Yes, school closures raise questions about child care, food scarcity and educational requirements. But none of those are our top priority. 

We take care of each other on this finger of Wisconsin. We have no doubt that we can find a way to feed our kids; create a volunteer system to provide child care, especially for those in the medical profession; and do what needs to be done. 

Sonny’s Pizzeria has pledged to provide meals for children of Sturgeon Bay Schools who rely on school lunches. Facebook groups have surfaced to organize child care. Main Street Market is offering to shop for people to limit exposure for customers and staff. Chives Restaurant will take to-go orders to your car. More examples are popping up every hour. 

“For us to stop the spread of the virus, we all need to work together and look at all options available and to adopt any means necessary to stop the movement of the virus,” said Paul Salm of the Cornerstone Pub. “Knowing that we are all a family up here, we will all support one another through this.”

But first, we need to make public health and safety the priority through more than words. It’s time to take this virus seriously, if not for ourselves, then for our neighbors. The rest – even the economy – we will figure out. In Door County, we always do.

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