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Mask mandate dies in committee
Two new facility-wide investigations underway
courthouse with mask covid

MONROE — Over a dozen community members turned out to hear the City of Monroe Public Safety Committee discuss COVID-19 safety measures at a meeting July 15.

Alder Brooke Bauman, who heads the committee, had the meeting scheduled after a Monroe resident suggested a citywide mask mandate. Bauman said she hoped the meeting would be a forum to brainstorm ideas on how to respond to COVID-19.

About 85 people joined in via teleconference for the two-hour meeting, in addition to those who attended in person. Bauman said that’s more than they’ve ever had tune in for a city meeting.

Until this week, Bauman said, people have shown little interest in the city’s COVID-19 response.

The mention of a potential mask-wearing requirement in the city, however, piqued the attention of residents both for and against it.

“This topic has struck a nerve within our community on both sides of opinion,” Alder Josh Binger said.

Binger addressed the crowd with an excerpt from a Center for Disease Control and Prevention article urging the public to wear masks.

But Binger, along with his counterparts on the committee — Bauman, Donna Douglas and Kelly Hermanson — agreed little can be done to enforce such a mandate.

Any vote or resolution at the committee level cannot be passed and put into ordinance for the community, the alders stressed. Before a mandate could go into effect, the Monroe Common Council as a whole would need to approve the measure.

After much discussion, the committee came to the agreement that they would not push a mask mandate through to the full council, citing primarily difficulties in enforcement.

Municipal mask mandates are in place elsewhere. An emergency order from Public Health Madison & Dane County requires everyone age 5 and older to “wear a face covering or mask when in any enclosed building where other people, except for members of the person’s own household or living unit, could be present.” The order went into effect July 13.

Many businesses throughout the country, and in turn Monroe, are implementing mask rules. Walmart, Kroger (Pick ‘N Save) and Kohl’s are three large chain businesses to make masks mandatory for customers and employees.

The committee then moved the discussion away from face masks, looking instead at other ways to protect the community from COVID-19.

Ideas the committee discussed included outdoor public handwashing stations, a “food court” area on the downtown Square to allow people to order from restaurants but not have to eat inside and an alternative option for completing the 2020 census outdoors.

In the end, the alders made no recommendations and decided to do more research, talk to city department heads and continue their discussion at the next Public Safety Committee meeting July 27.

More outbreaks reported

Green County has two new facility-wide investigations, bringing the total to four, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Facility-wide investigations are initiated whenever two or more people test positive for COVID-19 in a workplace. For nursing homes, just one person has to test positive to trigger an investigation.

Two of the four investigations are now closed. One was for an outbreak at Wisconsin Cheese Group in Monroe, where 28 people tested positive, and the other was related to a small food industry business that had two positive cases.

This week, DHS reported two more facility-wide investigations.

One is related to an outbreak at S&B Tubing in Albany. The tubing rental business announced a closure July 10 “due to a restructure of rules and practices relating to Covid-19.” It reopened the next day with a list of rules for customers, including social distancing requirements.

The other investigation is of Pleasant View Nursing Home, the county-owned skilled nursing facility in Monroe.

It’s related to one Pleasant View employee who tested positive June 23 for COVID-19, never developed symptoms and is now back to work after a two-week quarantine.

“Since then we have not had any positive cases,” said Terry Snow, administrator of the nursing home. The employee’s family and coworkers were tested and all came back negative.

The nursing home is now testing all staff, any new or readmitted residents and any residents with potential COVID-19 symptoms every two weeks through the end of August. The most recent round of testing was July 8. The next round is July 22, then again Aug. 5 and Aug. 19.

On July 9, DHS conducted an unrelated “Focused Infection Control Survey” of Pleasant View. It resulted in no citations, Snow said. All nursing homes are required to be surveyed by the end of July, per the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Pleasant View is vigilant about staying clean and protecting residents from COVID-19.

“We go through so much bleach a day, you wouldn’t imagine. We are squeaky clean here,” she said.

The nursing home is depending on the community to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, too, so that the facility can open back up to visitors.

“Please mask up, Green County. ... The residents miss their families. It’s been four months now,” Snow said. “No, we don’t want a mandate ... please, just do it for one another.”

Snow said the benefit of facial coverings in infection control is backed by data and she wishes the topic of masks wasn’t so emotional. She compared it to the public health debate decades ago around cigarette smoking in public.

“You don’t have the right to contaminate me,” she said. The difference with COVID-19 is that an infected person can infect another without knowing it “and that’s the sad part.”

About 25% of recent cases in Green County are from “community spread,” which is the term used when the infected person does not know where they could have been exposed, said RoAnn Warden, director of Green County Public Health.

The rest of recent cases are from transmission within a household or from close contacts and small gatherings of people.

As of July 16, Green County had 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with eight active. Over the past week, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to three but is now down to zero. One person in Green County has died of the virus.

Green County has been averaging 53 test results per day over the past two weeks and the positive rate is currently under 3%.

Green County residents without symptoms who want to get tested are directed to the nearest community testing site at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, which offers testing six days per week. The National Guard reports about 60,000 people have been tested at the site since May.

Anyone with symptoms is directed to their health care provider.

Lafayette County reported 85 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of July 15, with 11 active. The county has had two facility-wide investigations, one at Mexican Cheese Producers in Darlington, where 148 were tested and eight tested positive, and another at a workplace with five employees where two tested positive.

Lafayette County Health Director Elizabeth Townsend said she was unable to provide further details on the investigations.

“We are still seeing trends of cases that are from either a household ... or neighboring areas, for example an apartment complex. We are only seeing a small percentage of cases that have no known exposure,” Townsend said.

Lafayette County is offering free COVID-19 drive-through testing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 20 at the Multipurpose Building, 11974 Ames Rd., Darlington. The health department has 500 test kits available for the day.

— Kat Cisar contributed reporting