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Green County extends order to May 26
The decision comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 late Wednesday to block Gov. Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" extension that was set to expire May 26.
National Guard test site Portage
The Wisconsin National Guard has 25 COVID-19 specimen collection teams operating throughout the state, including a site for free testing at Alliant Energy Center in Madison. In this photo, National Guard members collect specimens for COVID-19 testing May 12 at Portage County Health and Human Services in Stevens Point. (Wisconsin National Guard photo)

This story has been updated.

MONROE — Green County will remain under a safer-at-home health order through May 26.

Green County Public Health Director RoAnn Warden made the decision along with other local leaders at a meeting Thursday morning, citing as one reason a recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases locally, including one Green County resident who is hospitalized due to the viral respiratory infection.

The decision comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 late Wednesday to block Gov. Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" extension that was set to expire May 26.

That extension is now effectively in place again in Green County, along with interim state orders that have "turned the dial" to lift some restrictions. Warden adopted these orders locally through authority granted to her office by state law.

After May 26, Warden said officials in southern Wisconsin are working together to adopt a regional plan that follows the governor's "Badger Bounce Back" plan to safely reopen businesses and resume some social activities.

Art Carter, county board chair, said the decision to extend safer-at-home orders was made with the region in mind.

"If we don't do it, we're going to be an island," Carter said.

Rock and Dane counties have already announced extensions of safer-at-home orders, as did the City of Brodhead. Carter said he anticipated the same would happen in Lafayette County.

Lafayette County's emergency operations team on Thursday morning was still "working on a plan/new order," said Elizabeth Townsend, head of the Lafayette County Health Department.

But at about 9:15 p.m. Thursday, the department sent out a press release announcing the county would not be issuing a new order.

"Lafayette County has made the decision, at this time, not to set forth an order because we, as county officials, put our trust in the citizens of Lafayette County. We believe the citizens will do what is right and know what must be done in order to protect ourselves, our economy and our community," it stated. Entry remains restricted to county grounds and buildings.

Businesses in the county "are also responsible for taking steps to protect the health of their employees and prevent transmission in their facilities ... (and) should adhere to the occupancy and social distancing rules."

"If cases increase dramatically, the county will have no choice but to go back to business closures," the health department warned, directing businesses to the CDC for guidance. It urged county residents to continue taking steps to protect personal, family and community health, including staying home as much as possible, washing hands, social distancing six feet apart and wearing a fabric face-covering "when you must be in public."

"Now, more than ever, it is important to take (these) steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19," the release said.

Lafayette County had 16 confirmed cases as of Thursday. One resident who tested positive is hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Darlington Police Department.

On Thursday morning in Green County, Carter and Warden met with Sheriff Jeff Skatrud, District Attorney Craig Nolen, Corporation Counsel Brian Bucholtz, Assistant Corporation Counsel Angela MacLennan, County Board Vice-Chair Jerry Guth, Clerk Mike Doyle, Monroe Chief of Police Fred Kelley and Monroe Clinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. Darren Pipp.

"Would I like to have other businesses open? Yes," Carter said, "but we've had a couple more flareups. ... We're still not over the hump. Hopefully by the 26th we'll be able to — well, I don't think we can go back to normal, but some restrictions can be lifted."

Green County had 39 confirmed cases as of Thursday, with 21 still active, including one hospitalized, and 18 reported as recovered. Since cases are tracked by county of residence, this only accounts for Green County residents who have tested positive. It does not include COVID-positive residents of neighboring counties who work in Green County.

Most of those who've tested positive for COVID-19 in Green County are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, according to a new data-tracking dashboard on the Green County Public Health website. In total, 770 Green County residents have been tested since March.

Confirmed positive cases in Green County have more than tripled since late April, in part due to an outbreak and subsequent facility-wide testing May 5 at Wisconsin Cheese Group's packaging plant in Monroe.

But Warden said there's also been a recent spike in infections through community spread, particularly among people living together. She advises anyone who is infectious to eat, sleep and use the bathroom separately from their household, if possible.

Increased testing to include populations like nursing home workers is key to the region being ready to reopen after May 26, Warden said.

"That was why it was so important to have this extension. We just need more information to see how we're doing with infections," she said.

Warden said Green County is already getting lab results back from residents who tested at a free testing site at Alliant Energy Center in Madison. The site opened May 11 and reported administering nearly 1,650 tests in its first three days of operation. The test tells whether a person is currently infected by the virus, even if there are no symptoms.

In addition to precautions like hand-washing and staying home, she "strongly" recommends wearing a mask in public whenever it isn't possible to reliably maintain a six-foot distance from others, including while at work or shopping for groceries.

Masks are a public health protection, not just a protection for the person wearing one, she said.

"If we're going to slow the spread of this, these are measures that we know will work," she said.

Like the state's "Safer at Home" orders, Green County's order is enforceable and failure to comply can result in fines or jail time.

But for under 24 hours Wednesday, in the brief period between the Supreme Court's ruling and Green County's decision to extend the orders, no order could be enforced. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted to Facebook that bars could "open immediately."

In Monroe on Wednesday night, a handful of bars did open and welcome a smattering of patrons who appeared to be socially distancing if not intentionally then by default.

One bar owner contacted by phone Thursday morning confirmed that he had opened the night before but declined to comment, explaining that anything he said would be used against him in the current politically charged environment.