Members of the Kewaunee County Board voted unanimously Tuesday (March 17) to declare a public health emergency, giving the county administrator and county board chair authority to act without board approval, if “necessary and expedient for the health, safety, protection, and welfare of persons and property within Kewaunee County in the emergency.”

The local action followed federal and state efforts to mitigate the spread of the contagious coronavirus COVID-19, which the World Health Organization has proclaimed a pandemic, and came several hours after Gov. Tony Evers banned gatherings of more than 10 people. Necessary government activities were exempted from Evers’ order, which tightened a ban on 50-plus he had issued just the day before.

County Board Chairman Robert Weidner had polled supervisors to determine if there would be a quorum after several questioned whether the meeting should be held in light of the COVID-19 advisories and mandates. Eight of the 20 supervisors told Weidner they were considering staying home in the interest of personal and public protection.

In the end five did not appear – Mary Ellen Dobbins, Gerald Paape, Kaye Shillin, Kent Treml and Charles Wagner. The Kewaunee County Comet coverage is based on a video of the meeting obtained Wednesday morning, as outlined in a column earlier this week.

Public Health Director Cindy Kinnard said about a dozen county residents have been tested after showing symptoms, but as of Tuesday afternoon there were no confirmed cases of the disease.

All private and public schools in the county closed after Tuesday in compliance with Evers’ order to close by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Kinnard said. Students will be learning remotely for the time being. She also reported that the county’s long-term care facilities have prohibited visitors, and the Aging & Disabilities Resource Center has closed its doors to walk-ins while continuing services including its meal delivery system.

“Our message to anyone is if you are sick, stay home,” Kinnard said. “If you feel the need to go to an ER, call first to let them know that you are coming, and then they will decide if they will do testing if you meet the guidelines that they’re watching for, and they’ll proceed accordingly.”

County Administrator Scott Feldt said he wanted to thank the county’s staff for keeping the lights on during the public crisis.

“Throughout all of this going on and with all of the chatter on social media and things in the press, people are still coming to work. People are still doing their job,” Feldt said.

State Rep. Joel Kitchens told the board he has come around after initially questioning whether the severe limitations on personal freedom are necessary.

“I’ve come to realize that that’s a pretty selfish attitude because sure, I’m confident that if I get infected I’ll get over it, but there are those that will not,” Kitchens said, citing a nursing home in Washington state where 10 people died. “I think it’s incumbent on us to encourage the public to follow these things — it’s real, and it’s going to hit this area, and I think it’s on us as elected officials to set an example on that.”

In explaining the public health emergency resolution Weidner said it gives the administrator and chairman the flexibility to take swift action without having to call the County Board together.

“I know how hard it’s going to be to do that; it was hard to do this one,” he said. “This gives the administrator and the board chairman authority to do some of the business of the county.”

Feldt assured supervisors they would keep them informed about any actions, which would only be taken after consulting front-line officials in public health, emergency management, law enforcement, “a variety of different people to make sure that if we’re making this decision it’s been vetted very well through a number of people not just the administrator or the county board chair.”

The resolution passed 15-0.