RACINE — As in Dane County, the City of Racine has announced stricter COVID-19 restrictions ahead of the holiday season.
Citing the “seemingly uncontrolled spread” of the coronavirus throughout Racine, and a fear of massive spikes during the holiday season, Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox detailed the new restrictions within the Safer Racine ordinance — which has been in effect since mid-June — in a Monday evening news release.
Rules for “long-term care facilities, day cares, indoor recreational facilities, pools, zoos, mass gatherings and other venues” have been modified, but only in the City of Racine, and not in the villages of Elmwood Park and Wind Point which the Racine Health Department also has jurisdiction over. They include:
- Bars, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios and other “indoor recreational facilities” must limit capacity to 25% “as long as social distancing can be maintained.”
- Retail stores, tattoo parlors, salons and personal care facilities must limit capacity to 50% “as long as social distancing can be maintained.”
- Churches and other places of worship, as well as “outdoor places of amusement and activity, and both indoor and outdoor mass gatherings at private venues” now have a legal max capacity of 50 “with some exceptions.”
These rules are set to go into effect Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. They are to be enforced by the Racine Police Department in conjunction with the Health Department.
How we got here
“I am fully aware of the disappointment and anger that some in the community will feel at new measures and restrictions being issued. I understand that we are all ready for COVID-19 to be gone,” Bowersox said in a statement. “However, we will continue to have to make these tough decisions to slow the spread of COVID-19 until everyone in this community takes personal responsibility for slowing the spread of this virus.
“The community must realize that inconveniences now, like wearing a mask properly and not participating in family gatherings outside of your immediate household, are necessary to protect public health and save lives long term.”
Western Wisconsin hospitals in worst shape
Throughout the pandemic, the City of Racine has declared that the state of the city and county would be much worse as it relates to COVID-19 had the city not taken legal actions to restrict transmission of the pandemic.
In stretches of northwestern Wisconsin, multiple hospital systems have said they are at capacity due to the influx of COVID patients. The Mayo Clinic, which has several hospitals in western Wisconsin, is now setting up COVID beds in parking garages since the hospital system doesn’t have room inside its hospitals.
Although local medical staffs have been stretched thin, they have not reported running out of space.
Many have blamed opposition to statewide action by the Republican leadership of the state Legislature — both by fighting restrictions and not providing more aid to workers since April — and the overruling in court of Gov. Tony Evers’ and the Department of Health Services’ statewide rules for Wisconsin becoming a national hotspot in recent months.
But, in recent weeks, state leaders have been putting some of the onus for reducing the spread of COVID-19 on individual Wisconsinites, who have urged to mask up, work from home, practice social distancing and not gather in large groups for the holidays.
“As difficult as it has been, I am confident that the City of Racine is in a much better place than the rest of the region because we have kept certain restrictions in place over time,” Bowersox stated. “I cannot thank enough the individuals and businesses who continue to abide by the best practices of washing hands frequently, wearing masks properly, staying home as much as possible with just their immediate household members, and only going out for essential services.
“Until there is a vaccine that is distributed to the vast majority of the population, we all need to stay vigilant and take personal responsibility to combat the spread of this virus throughout the community.”
There are now three reportedly viable coronavirus vaccines. However, mass distribution of any, or all, of those vaccines likely won’t be possible until early spring, if not later.
Dane County’s gathering-limiting order is already under fire in court. Racine’s prior orders have been challenged but survived after getting approval from the City Council.
However, Bowersox’s order directing all schools in the department’s jurisdiction — public and private — to close their buildings after Thanksgiving is being challenged by several local private schools, parents and the prominent conservative legal group the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.