COVID response oversight ordinance stalls

by Dan Colton
for The Beacon

The Sheboygan County Executive Committee has recommended disapproval of an ordinance that sought to provide enforcement and penalties for disobeying restrictions incurred by the new coronavirus.

The controversial disease control ordinance – now filed and recommended for a down-vote by the committee – was updated from a prior version to include new measures. The new measures, according to County Administrator Adam Payne, were included to quell concerns of governmental overreach.

He addressed the committee in a speech and recommended the measure be tabled.

Payne said the updated language reflected an effort to create additional checks and balances for public health emergencies. According to Payne, the ordinance – if passed – would establish legal grounds to enforce penalties to curb COVID’s spread if county’s hospitals are on the brink of being overrun by COVID-19 patients.

As part of the updated proposal, enforcement of COVID-19 measures would fall to the County Board instead of with a single public health official and law enforcement officers.

And with County Board review, Payne said the oversight would create less-onerous penalty measures than currently permitted under state law.

The county’s two major hospitals contain 12 intensive-care beds and 22 additional beds specifically designated for COVID-19 patients, according to county documents. If 50-percent of those beds become occupied, healthcare officials said a local emergency would arise.

As of Aug. 25, county data indicated eight of the available beds were occupied.

The proposed ordinance is set to be voted upon by the Sheboygan County Board next month. It was originally proposed by the Health and Human Services Committee.

“Unfortunately, this has become a very emotionally charged and political issue,” Payne said during the Executive Committee meeting. “…With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, people are understandably hurting, frustrated and fearful, and this proposed ordinance was contributing to that angst. That was certainly not our intention.”

By recommending a filing of the ordinance at the committee level, Payne said he hopes some of the division will be healed.

“What’s happening right now, I don’t know if any of us are used to this,” Payne said. “I know I’m not. There is a lot of pain and angst and we are all feeling it.”

Payne predicted the County Board wouldn’t pass the measure, either.

“My bet is the county board will (also) file it, and that will be the end of this,” he said.

About 40 protestors gathered outside the Sheboygan County Courthouse where the Executive Committee meeting was held.

One local protestor voiced support for the filing and cast doubt onto the validity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m glad they filed it,” said Sheboygan resident Joe Erager. “I hope it’s filed forever.”

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