Announcements/resources listed by Polk County health Department:
Due to the COVID19 event, to best serve you, we strongly recommend calling ahead before you come to our offices. Polk County is still conducting business. If you are not feeling well, please stay home.
Gov. Evers Extends Safer at Home Order through May 26th.
Gov. Evers Directed DHS to Mandate closure of all K-12 Public and Private schools to start on March 18th after 5pm
View the closure order click HERE
Gov. Evers Declares Public Health Emergency Due to COVID-19
View the full press release HERE
The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) has published Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs for homeowners, renters, housing providers in response to COVID-19 Find it HERE
Contact the Health Department: Call at 715-485-9258 or Email us at [email protected]
WI Department of Health Services (DHS) has issued an order prohibiting mass gathering of 10 people or more.
Read the full order below.
Restaurant, Bar, Salon, Tattoo Parlor? Find the latest information, recommendations, and guidance on the Environmental Health Page or read the FAQ's below:
Stay Up to date on the latest infomation from Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP): Click HERE to visit the DATCP site
Dentist or Work in a Dental Office? Find the latest information, recommendations, and guidance
Read below for more information
Economic Support Information
The Polk County Economic Development Corporation (PCEDC) is working diligently along with local business leaders and governmental officials to be able to offer economic support resources during these difficult times. The contacts in the document below have resources to assist both individuals and business owners.
DHS has released a Message Map for the Faith Community on Nurturing Spiritual Health During the Safer at Home Order.
Read the full document below.
DHS has Mandated the Restriction of Child Care Settings March 18th after 5pm
Read the full order below.
Statewide: This morning before scheduled State Capitol protests against Wisconsin’s most effective COVID-19 containment measure, public health professionals taped brief video interviews to discuss the situation. These dedicated caregivers hope by offering this testimony to counteract the disinformation being spread through social media and irresponsible national media outlets to mobilize opposition to social distancing. The health professionals explained why maintaining social distancing is essential for saving lives, protecting front line caregivers and other essential workers, and slowing the virus enough to safely reopen the economy.
Elizabeth Riley: Elizabeth is a nurse who recently returned to Wisconsin after spending several weeks working in a Brooklyn, NYC Intensive Care Unit. She describes the horror of the ICU, the horrible and lonely deaths of her patients, and her dread that Wisconsin could become like New York City if the Safer At Home order were lifted. https://youtu.be/JWa55RJtvBU
Jeff Weber: Jeff is the President of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. He worries about Wisconsin hospitals’ capacity being overrun with a surge of COVID-19 cases resulting from these protests and premature lifting of the Safer At Home order. He states we need two weeks of sustained decline in new cases before lifting the order. https://youtu.be/dogIXdYMIe8
Lynn Carey: Lynn is a nurse practitioner, educator, and PhD as well as a double lung transplant recipient. Her advice for beating this virus: "stay home!” https://youtu.be/rKsyDBi8uU4
Victoria Gutierrez: Victoria is a frontline nurse in Madison. She is concerned that the capitol protest will cause an increase in COVID-19 cases and put strain on the already short supply of personal protective gear used by nurses. https://youtu.be/93sxJ5vxfOA
Mary Milton: Mary is a frontline nurse in Milwaukee. She monitors the protective gear used by her hospital’s workers. She says she has "never seen such suffering” as that of her COVID-19 patients. https://youtu.be/QXDgiTlHOFs
Emily Siegrist: Emily is a nurse and nurse educator from the Milwaukee area. She is worried about the lack of support for frontline health care professionals and that protesters today will not take protective measures. https://youtu.be/Oy9S_E0kRDQ
"Front line health professionals, many of whom are risking their own health treating the victims of COVID-19, are urging the people of Wisconsin to maintain social distancing as the best way to contain this deadly pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. "If we are going to pull together and meet this challenge, we need to start listening to the scientists and the front-line caregivers, not the cynical politicians and billionaires seeking to exploit the crisis for their own purposes.”
For more detail on Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 policy proposals, see our March news release and memo to the Governor, and a recent column.
Changes allow for more business, activities to open
WISCONSIN – With the extension of
the Safer At Home order through May 26, it includes a some changes to allow for
more businesses and activities to open back up, while other changes help
make businesses safer for employees and customers. The changes in this new
order go into effect on Friday, April 24.
Businesses and activities ramping up service and operations:
Safe Business Practices:
Other changes include:
If you have questions, a Frequently Asked Questions document is available here for your review.
The public should continue to follow simple steps to avoid exposure to the virus and prevent illness including:
This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we encourage you and the public to frequently monitor the DHS website.
When schools closed in Fall Creek, Wis., because of the coronavirus, the district staff got an unusual message. Don't worry for now about assignments or quizzes, Superintendent Joe Sanfelippo told them. Instead, "I want you to call people. And I want you to ask them two questions: How are you doing? And do you need anything?"
The district had also ordered Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hot spots to help connect families in this small, rural community. But the hotspots were delayed, and many families live in areas with poor signal strength.
Plus, Sanfelippo was after a different connection: "We're not even talking about Internet connection," he says. "We're talking about connection to an adult in the building."
For Sanfelippo and many educators around the country, the biggest fear with schools shut down isn't lost learning, it's losing contact with their students. So they're going back to an old-fashioned communication tool: the telephone.
"It's kind of an analog approach to connecting with students, but it works," says Michael Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change, an organization that works with school superintendents across the country. "The greatest danger to both learning and the health and well-being of their communities is not having a line of sight on every single child."
Schools are often the most trusted places in communities. Families turn to them for information, resources, food and a link to other social services. "It's a teacher or a principal or someone in the school community who families are most likely to trust," says Magee, "and so they play a critical role at this moment that goes well beyond the role they play in learning and academic achievement."
Chad Gestson, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, agrees. "There's magic in phone calls," he says. "Magic and personal touch."
In Arizona's capital, the digital divide is stark, despite a massive effort to get families connected to the Internet. So Gestson and his team created an initiative called Every Student, Every Day: They pledged to call every student — there are about 28,000 of them — every day.
"We certainly haven't abandoned the importance of the Internet and laptops and devices and online learning," Gestson explains. "We continue to push that. But we serve a large population of youth who don't have devices or connectivity in the house. If we want to connect to 100% of our youth, most of that will have to happen over the phone."
Every adult who works for the district — bus drivers, teachers, coaches, support staff — even the superintendent — was assigned a list of students to call.
And while they ask questions about academics and connectivity, that's not the main reason they call, Gestson says. Instead, it's: How are you doing today? How's your family doing today? Do you still live in your current residence? Are you worried about rent? Do you have food on your table and in your cupboards? Is your electricity still on? Is anyone sick in your house?
The district staff have been at this for a little more than a week. They've heard stories of successes — that students are filling out their financial aid forms for college, or they're working on projects and assignments. But they're also hearing from families who've lost their incomes and are on the brink of homelessness, who need food and other social services.
And while they estimate they've talked to most of the district's students, there are still about 5,000 they haven't reached.
"That's a scary number," says Gestson. "We're trying every day. Numbers are disconnected, and youth aren't answering phone calls. We don't know if that means they're homeless or if they've moved. We don't know if that just means they no longer have a phone or electricity."
Gestson says he and his staff aren't giving up. They're doing home visits now, too. While maintaining a safe social distance, he says, educators are out there, knocking on doors. They're letting students and families know that even though school buildings are closed, the teachers and staff are still there, with open arms.
Benefits will be available April 12 and April 26
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that more than 215,000 FoodShare households will be receiving additional benefits. These benefits will help those Wisconsin families stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The effects of the pandemic have been hard on all Wisconsinites, but especially hard on the most vulnerable people in our state," said Andrea Palm, Secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services. "The ability for eligible households to access additional FoodShare benefits during this public health emergency provides an important lifeline to one of our most basic human needs."
Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Wisconsin is able to provide FoodShare recipients with the maximum monthly benefit amount, based on the number of people in their household, for two months.
As a result, for March and April, FoodShare households not currently receiving the maximum monthly benefit amount for their family size will receive additional benefits bringing them up to that level. The additional March benefits will be available on QUEST cards on April 12, and the additional April benefits will be available on QUEST cards on April 26. If the COVID-19 emergency extends beyond April, DHS will work with its federal partners on any future opportunities to provide additional emergency allotments.
Households will receive a letter notifying them of the additional benefits. Households already receiving the maximum amount will not receive additional benefits. The following is the maximum monthly benefit amount based on the number of people in the household:
Wisconsinites are adapting to life under the cloud of COVID-19, and for a growing group that means getting into the habit of covering up with a face mask when they venture from their homes.
Indeed, face masks may be spring 2020's most en vogue apparel, though the burgeoning trend began not on a fashion runway but with a dryly worded recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC's recommendation that Americans wear non-medical "cloth face coverings" in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies came on April 3, after weeks of growing speculation it might happen. The move came as a debate builds among health experts in the United States and around the world on the role of face masks in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocates for using face masks have cited the slower progression of outbreaks in places where their use in public is deeply ingrained, such as in Hong Kong and South Korea, though evidence directly linking their use in public to reduced transmission of respiratory disease is lacking. Some have also argued that wearing masks could still help slow the spread of COVID-19 by reinforcing social norms and appropriate hygiene practices that can help limit transmission, especially if individuals who don't know they are infected wear one.
And yet other public health authorities, including at the World Health Organization, have feared any new guidance encouraging the broad use of face masks, even if it explicitly emphasized preserving medical-grade masks for healthcare settings, would inevitably exacerbate acute shortages hospitals are feeling worldwide. More than a week after the CDC changed its stance on the matter, the WHO maintains its guidance that healthy people should only wear a mask if they are caring for someone with COVID-19. Many medical professionals and public health experts in the U.S., including in Wisconsin, feel the same way.
For its part, the CDC issued carefully worded language that provided individuals who wished to wear a face mask with instructions for crafting their own mask out of household materials.
The recommendations attempted to strike a balance between concerns on each side of the mask question. As such, it amounted to somewhat of an about-face for the agency, whose prior guidance explicitly did not recommend the public use of masks of any type among healthy individuals in response to COVID-19. In Wisconsin, health officials conformed with the CDC's prior stance when WisContext first explored this issue in February.
Public health guidance aside, many people in Wisconsin and elsewhere have decided for themselves whether or not to wear a mask in public, perhaps driven in part by their increasingly ubiquitous presence in the news and on social media.
No matter how they came to their decision, many did not wait for the CDC's new stance, which came more than two months after the disease was first diagnosed on American soil. What changed over that time that would have prompted such a fierce debate among public health experts and ultimately led to the new guidance?
In making its recommendation, the CDC acknowledged a growing body of evidence that many people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, may show little or no symptoms even while carrying a significant amount of the virus in their systems. The evidence, including the CDC's own examination of a cluster of cases in King County, Washington, has added weight to concerns that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals may be an unwitting and significant vector of the disease.
"That may have been the tipping point for this change," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, an infectious diseases physician and chief medical officer for infection control at UW Health in Madison.
Safdar pointed out that scientific evidence that would link the widespread use of face masks to slower transmission of COVID-19 remains elusive.
"The data supporting it hasn't really changed all that much," she said.
What has changed, in Safdar’s view, besides a firmer understanding of asymptomatic infection, is Americans' attitudes toward wearing face masks in public.
"The decisions that are being made are being swayed by momentum, by public opinion and by what others have done, in Asia, for instance, where there's long been this culture of wearing masks in public," Safdar said.
Wisconsin's state epidemiologist of communicable diseases Dr. Ryan Westergaard shared that view.
"I think two things happened," said Westergaard. "One is that there's sort of a general public acceptance [of wearing face masks]. Initially it was sort of at odds with our cultural norms."
The other shift, according to Westergaard, is the public health view that wearing a face mask could possibly help reduce the impact of lax etiquette among people who fail to properly cover their sneezes and coughs, especially if they are carrying the virus without realizing it. To that end, wearing a face mask in public is less about personal protection and more about protecting the community.
"I don't know the degree to which the public sees that distinction," Westergaard said.
At the same time, any protective impact of wearing face masks in public could easily be negated by their improper use, which is something Safdar worries a lot about. It only takes one sneeze or cough to potentially soil a cloth mask with infectious particles, meaning even a minor mask adjustment could risk contaminating a wearer's fingers and subsequently anything they touch.
"It just seems fraught with potential for contamination," Safdar said.
Public health officials remain worried about the potential diversion of personal protective equipment like medical-grade surgical masks and N95 respirators as more people take up wearing face masks in public. This equipment is crucial for protecting healthcare workers while they test and treat symptomatic patients, and many workers in Wisconsin, from nurses in urban hospitals to rural EMTs, remain critically short of it.
Westergaard said personal protective equipment continues to be Wisconsin's "highest need" in its response to COVID-19. The state's needs remain so acute that it has set up a donation and exchange system to facilitate the acquisition of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.
The CDC's face mask guidance is clearly crafted to encourage the use of homemade or purchased cloth masks and explicitly calls for preserving personal protective equipment like N95 respirators and surgical masks for healthcare settings. But numerous images of voters and poll workers wearing medical-grade gear during Wisconsin's April 7 election signaled that many people may not be receptive to this message as it gets drowned out by fears over the contagion.
Both Westergaard and Safdar said they don't blame anybody for wearing medical masks at polling stations, especially if that's what election officials gave them, or if it was what they had on hand. Safdar instead reserved her judgment for state officials who allowed in-person voting to take place in the midst of a pandemic, a situation she said "wasn't a great idea."
"I think you send a mixed message to people where you're telling healthcare workers to reuse their PPE when they're taking care of actively sick patients, but yet, in the public, you're seeing this waste of PPE," Safdar said. "It's a shame."
Mixed messages from elected officials can make the decision to wear a face mask — and choosing which type to wear — a fraught one for Wisconsinites who are still figuring out how they can best protect themselves and their communities.
Unlike in a growing number of municipalities such as Washington D.C, Miami and Los Angeles, deciding whether to wear a mask or other face covering in public remains a personal decision in Wisconsin, and residents are choosing to use them for a variety of reasons.
Ruth King lives near Spooner in rural Washburn County, which reported its first confirmed COVID-19 infection on April 13. A stormwater specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, King questions whether there is clear scientific evidence supporting the use of face masks in public. Still, she buys groceries for her elderly mother and generally heeds advice from the CDC, King said, and she wants to do her part to minimize the chance she or members of her family could catch the highly contagious disease.
King has also noticed more people wearing masks as they shop for food and supplies at Spooner's lone grocery store since the CDC shifted its guidance.
"When a lot of people are wearing them, you feel the peer pressure to wear them yourself," King said.
Across the state in Green Bay, Carl Hujet is concerned that a recently diagnosed heart condition puts him at a higher risk for complications should he come down with COVID-19. A neighbor recently gave Hujet a hand-sewn mask, and he fashioned another with supplies from home. Hujet said the CDC's new guidance prompted him to transition from wearing a mask in public only sometimes to doing so religiously, whether he's at the grocery store, doctor's office or a gas station.
Hujet has read that wearing a mask is more about protecting others in case one is an asymptomatic carrier, but he also feels a greater sense of personal security with one on.
"I don't want to kill anybody, and I don't want to be killed," Hujet said.
Meanwhile, Ann Gainey of Wind Lake in exurban Milwaukee has considered it prudent to wear a face mask in public since the disease began spreading globally after the initial outbreak in China, which prominently featured imagery of Chinese citizens and leaders donning masks.
A retired nurse who spent four decades caring for nursing home residents and ICU patients, Gainey said she was frustrated with the CDC for waiting so long to shift its guidance on the use of face masks in public.
"I was an advocate of face masks from the get-go," said Gainey, who said she understood the CDC was likely worried about runs on medical personal protective equipment. Still, as its new, carefully worded guidance demonstrates, there are other face covering options for the public.
To that end, Gainey has sewn and sent more than 150 cloth masks to friends and family around the nation since the outbreak began.
"It upset me that people weren't being encouraged more to wear face masks," she said.
In Madison, Sam Million-Weaver said he also felt an urge to wear a face mask prior to the CDC's new stance, but a lack of clear guidance made him feel as though there wasn't social permission to do so.
"If no one's doing it, you don't want to be the one weird guy wearing a mask," said Million-Weaver, who is a medical writer for a medical science organization. He said that since the CDC changed its mask guidance he's noticed many more people wearing face coverings in public at places like his neighborhood grocery store. Still, Million-Weaver is concerned that the federal government's messaging on the matter remains confused.
"It would be helpful if our government could send a unified message," he said, taking issue with President Donald Trump's refusal to wear a mask.
"A lot more people would be following the good public health example if our elected leadership was setting a good public health example," he said.
No matter the messages coming from the federal government, many Wisconsinites are taking up the use — and creation — of face masks. That's according to organizers of a statewide volunteer effort to sew and distribute cloth masks who have been inundated with requests since the CDC shifted its guidance.
The Wisconsin Face Mask Warriors is a growing network of volunteers with local chapters around the state, such as one in Green Bay. In late March, members began producing cloth face masks for frontline workers in essential sectors, including nursing homes, grocery stores and pharmacies.
The group produces masks that fall in line with the CDC's recommendations — multiple layers of washable cloth that fit tightly over the nose and mouth and have ear straps. The cotton masks can be washed repeatedly and are compatible with autoclave systems that sterilize materials under high pressure and temperature.
The group's ranks have quickly grown to more than 4,000 volunteers around the state, according to organizers Dena Bennett of New London and Jenni Cardell of Madison. But demand for their masks has also exploded, both from facilities lacking personal protective equipment — including medical facilities — and from a growing number of individuals seeking the masks for personal use.
"We have just been bombarded with requests. It's just crazy," said Bennett.
The group does not deny personal requests, Bennett said, but prioritizes those from institutions and frontline workers.
Requests range from a handful of masks to huge shipments, noted Cardell.
"Just in the last 15 minutes we had a single request come through … from a medical facility, and they were asking for 15,000 masks," Cardell said in an interview on April 9.
Such demand speaks both to a public desire to minimize transmission and to the ongoing trouble Wisconsin's health systems face as they seek to secure protective equipment for frontline workers confronting COVID-19.
The goal of limiting the spread of COVID-19 is why public health officials like Ryan Westergaard and Nasia Safdar are underscoring the need to maintain strategies that are proven to slow transmission, chief among them proper handwashing and significant physical distancing.
Several weeks after their implementation in Wisconsin, these measures may have started to slow the rate of new infections in the state — or "flatten the curve" — by mid-April. However, state officials cautioned against declaring an early victory.Westergaard also emphasized that wearing a face mask must not be considered a stand in for physical distancing or proper hygiene etiquette.
"We don't want people to wear face coverings at the expense of paying attention to other important infection control measures like hand washing," he said.
Safdar said the positive effects of physical distancing, including Wisconsin's stay-at-home order, are apparent at Madison's University Hospital, where she works.
"We're definitely seeing a decline in the trajectory [of new infections]," she said. "We're still seeing a few, but it's nowhere near as fast and high in volume as we expected when this started out based on what we have seen other cities dealing with. So in the health system, we are seeing an effect of social distancing being done by the public."
Safdar acknowledged the steep economic costs of the state's measures, but said she hoped they would remain in effect for some time to come, fearing a resurgence in transmission if distancing were relaxed too much too soon.
WASHINGTON, April 13, 2020 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today unveiled a one-stop-shop of federal programs that can be used by rural communities, organizations and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide (PDF, 349 KB) is a first-of-its-kind resource for rural leaders looking for federal funding and partnership opportunities to help address this pandemic.
"Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities preparing for and impacted by COVID-19,” Perdue said. "This resource guide will help our rural leaders, whether they are in agriculture, education, health care or any other leadership capacity, understand what federal assistance is available for their communities during this unprecedented time.”
USDA has taken many immediate actions to assist farmers, ranchers, producers, rural communities, and rural-based businesses and organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on these actions, visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus.
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers today announced an application has been submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin the development of a second alternative care facility (ACF) in Wisconsin to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. The Army Corp of Engineers has partnered with states to build ACFs to support existing, local medical infrastructures in response to the spread of COVID-19.
More information regarding the state-wide COVID-19 response is also available here.