The Door County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to endorse a COVID-19 advisory issued last week by the county Public Health department, but took no further action to pursue a public health order or county ordinance mandating face masks, social distancing or other preventative measures.
The vote Tuesday came after the County Board’s administrative committee voted July 21 to support the public health advisory, which was issued Thursday and went into effect Friday. The advisory strongly recommends preventative measures for COVID-19 but does not have the force of law.
The number of total cases in the county so far is now 83, county public health officer Susan Powers told supervisors. Of those, 62 people have recovered, meaning they no longer have acute symptoms and are out of isolation, Powers said. Having recovered does not mean the person will not have long-term health effects, Powers added.
Powers attributed the rise in the county’s case total – which stood at 44 on July 1 – in part to private parties and family gatherings and to people moving around more in general. The county’s COVID-19 cases are spread among all age groups, Powers said.
Dr. James Heise, the Door County Medical Center’s chief medical officer, told supervisors he understood that they are in a difficult position. He urged them to consider a county ordinance mandating face masks.
A few supervisors encouraged the board to have county staff draft an ordinance so that one could be voted on, if necessary, at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 25.
“I’d like to have this board be more proactive than reactive,” said supervisor Dale Vogel, who represents parts of the town of Sevastopol and the city of Sturgeon Bay. “Our next meeting is the end of August. We could have some situations there. I’d rather see us prepared than not prepared.”
Supervisors Susan Kohout and Megan Lundahl agreed. Kohout represents the town of Sturgeon Bay and the eastern part of the town of Nasewaupee; Lundahl represents part of the west side of the city of Sturgeon Bay.
County administrator Ken Pabich said county staff is constantly monitoring the situation, but if the county were to take further action, it likely would come in the form of a public health order from Powers’s office first. The county board then likely would vote on an ordinance designed to match the public health order, Pabich said.
Public Health department seeks more staff for contact tracing
Powers said the Public Health department wants to hire more staff to help it with contact tracing and other COVID-19 work.
“This can’t happen fast enough,” she said.
Powers said she does not have data on how many visitors to the county later tested positive for COVID-19. That’s because the state system for tracking diseases assigns cases to the county in which a person resides, Powers said.
The Public Health department conducts contact tracing in cases where a visitor to the county later tested positive, Powers said, but that work is not recorded in the state system. Tracking the number of those cases, Powers said, would require additional, manual tracking by Public Health staff. Powers said she’s not inclined to ask staff to do extra work right now.
Powers praised the staff of the Public Health department.
“It’s a brilliant, ambitious group of young women,” she said. “I can’t take any credit; they came this way.”
“At present, they are also exhausted,” she added.
Heise said there are very few medically legitimate reasons why someone cannot wear a face mask. The idea that a mask prevents a person from getting oxygen or causes carbon dioxide to accumulate is completely false, he said.
“Wearing a mask sucks,” Heise said. “There’s no question about it. It is not something I enjoy doing. It’s hot, it’s not pleasant. People say, ‘I don’t like it.’ Well of course not! I think you’d be nuts if you did like it.”
Having said that, Heise said, the only reason he could think of that someone could not wear a mask is a medical condition that already made breathing difficult for them.
Board approves donation for helmets, shields for Sheriff’s Office
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the County Board voted to approve a $10,000 donation from Adopt a Soldier Door County, a Sturgeon Bay-based nonprofit organization, to cover the cost of purchasing helmets and body shields for the Door County Sheriff’s Office.
The $9,996 purchase was initially rejected by the County Board’s finance committee last month. Sheriff Tammy Sternard has said she wants the equipment both to protect officers in Door County and so that she can feel comfortable sending officers to assist other law enforcement agencies when she receives assistance requests.
In Tuesday’s vote, the donation was approved 16-4. Supervisors Bob Bultman, Kara Counard, David Enigl and Nissa Norton voted against it; supervisor David Englebert was absent.
A few supervisors expressed concern that the donation represented a side-stepping of the board’s traditional committee process.
Some supervisors also gave passionate statements on the issue. Bultman and Counard spoke at length about institutional racism in the United States. And supervisor Richard Virlee said the issue was about protecting police officers, and he couldn’t imagine anyone voting against that.
Sternard urged supervisors to look at the purchase as a local issue. She said if she thought the Sheriff’s Office could not use the equipment properly or that it would be used unnecessarily violently, she would not have requested it.
“You may not personally like it,” Sternard said. “You may not personally like what it stands for. But in the end, you have an obligation to keep the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office safe.”