By Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN — The county became the latest governmental body to officially declare a state of emergency in regards to the coronavirus.
The County Board Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution declaring the state, after hearing an update from Health and Human Services Department personnel on the coronavirus situation in the county.
“Our priority is to get as much relevant update information as we can to our public as fast as we can,” Elizabeth Jacobs, public information officer for the department’s Division of Public Health, told the board.
Public Health Community Engagement Supervisor Starrlene Grossman told the board that a fourth case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been confirmed in Sheboygan County just that afternoon.
“We currently have about 100 people we’ve been following up with,” since the first three COVID-19 cases in the county were confirmed March 13. The fourth case, she said, was a person who had been in contact with one of the three original cases.
The three people originally confirmed with the virus in Sheboygan County, along with four in Fond du Lac County, had all just returned from a cruise to Egypt, Grossman said.
Once the first cases were confirmed, county staff immediately went to work interviewing those people and determining who else they had come into contact with. That led to the confirmation of the fourth case.
Department of Health and Human Services Director Matthew Strittmater said department personnel, “have been here probably 10 to 15 hours a day,” working on the coronavirus situation.
“I think you should be extremely proud of your public health department,” he told the supervisors.
“I do want to acknowledge that these are scary times, with the fear of the unknown. Details are changing daily,” Strittmater asserted.
County Administrator Adam Payne agreed, saying, “These are absolutely extraordinary times. Things are changing so rapidly.”
He echoed Strittmater’s praise for the public health staff and extended that to all county employees.
“Sheboygan County is not shutting down,” Payne stated. “We are absolutely providing essential services.
“I’m really proud of Sheboygan County’s response to this,” he concluded.
Under the emergency declaration, made in accordance with county statutes, Payne — as county administrator — is granted additional powers for up to 60 days or until the board declares the emergency ended.
Those include giving emergency management contracts priority over any other contracts, awarding necessary public works contracts to meet the emergency without having to put them out for bid, allocating materials and facilities, and making emergency interim appointments to fill vacant county offices, among others.
The board also authorized spending up to $500,000 out of the county’s contingency and undesignated funds to “address the emerging public health crisis,” as County Board Chair Thomas Wegner explained in a memo accompanying the emergency declaration.
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Citing the uncertainty in financial markets caused by the coronavirus crisis, the board agreed to delay a proposed $4.75 million bond sale for capital improvement projects.
“Fortunately, because of our healthy fund balance, we’re going to be OK,” funding projects with county funds until the bonds can be sold at a reasonable rate, Payne added. “We can wait for the market to settle down.”
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The board approved an application to the state Department of Natural Resources for a stewardship grant for the extension of the Old Plank Road Recreational Trail in conjunction with the expansion of State 23 to four lanes to Fond du Lac.