‘It Is Insanity’: Petition Calls For Tighter COVID-19 Rules On Dane County Businesses, Gatherings

Parents And Health Expert Push Local Health Officials To Do More To Stop Spread Of COVID-19 So Schools Can Reopen For In-Person Instruction

A man pays at a parking meter machine while wearing a mask
A man wears a mask as he pays for parking on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in downtown Madison. Angela Major/WPR

A Dane County parent and health researcher has spearheaded an effort to tighten up local COVID-19 restrictions in the hopes K-12 schools could hold in-person classes by November.

The effort to restore in-person classes is focused on helping children who might struggle with virtual learning, and assisting parents trying to juggle work and child care.

Several school districts in Dane County have announced that they will not resume in-person instruction when school starts this fall. The largest, Madison Metropolitan School District, announced an all-virtual start to the school year after the city’s teachers’ union voiced concern in mid-July. Classes will be remote until at least the end of October.

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A letter submitted to Dane County officials Monday asked the Board of Health to immediately close non-essential businesses and gatherings to prevent further community spread of COVID-19, so that K-12 schools can safely reopen for in-person instruction as soon as possible.

“Allowing adults to congregate in bars, restaurants, gyms, retail locations, and private parties is absolutely not essential and is actively compromising the health, safety, and education of the children of our county, particularly the most vulnerable,” wrote Malia Jones in a letter signed by 363 others. “This is a major failure of the social contract. It is insanity.”

Jones is an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Population Laboratory, and runs the Facebook page Dear Pandemic.

The number of new daily infections reported by Dane County officials has been falling since peaking June 30 when there were 142 people testing positive for COVID-19. But the number of new cases remain high.

State and local health officials have indicated that many people testing positive for COVID-19 have told contact tracers they attended barbecues, parties and bars. Indoor service at Dane County bars is banned but outdoor patio service is allowed. Restaurants are open at 25 percent capacity and gyms can operate at reduced capacity.

Earlier this month, Dane County implemented the state’s first mask mandate in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Cases spiked after restrictions were eased in mid-June under Phase Two of the county’s reopening plan Forward Dane.

At the time, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 had been under 2 percent for several months. Local health officials use the percent positive rate as one of the criteria to determine how and when certain social distancing measures, including many imposed on businesses, can be relaxed.

Madison’s largest business group is against further restrictions.

“Destroying the economy when we have other solutions has real risks,” said Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, who supports the use of face masks as one way to curb the virus. “We can’t say we love small, local businesses and at the same time say we need to tighten down an order that’s so restrictive that many of them can’t operate at a profit.”

The question of how to operate schools safely during a pandemic has divided the country. President Donald Trump has pushed for schools to reopen and has threatened to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t hold classes in person. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports in-person instruction, citing other services schools provide like meals, health services and socialization.

But a national poll released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates even though parents are hurting without child care, they are in no rush to reopen schools. Another poll by the advocacy group ParentsTogether showed one third of respondents would not send their kids to schools that reopen in the fall.

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