'Informed but difficult decisions:' Officials unveil 'Forward Racine' guide for reopening businesses

RACINE -- For the first time in more than two months, Janna Coca prepares to welcome customers back to Tangles Salon Studio in downtown Racine.

Janna Coca

"We are so excited. Our clients -- they've been very patient with us -- but everyone wants to get in," Coca said.

After installing hand sanitizing stations and developing a plan – the salon will open Tuesday. The first available day under "Forward Racine" – the city's new plan and public health order, which allows some businesses to reopen with limits.

The keyword here: limits.

"Until effective treatment or a widely distributed vaccine becomes available, the threat of continued expansion of the viral disease is very real," said Dottie-Kay Bowersox, City of Racine public health administrator.

For example – hair salons can reopen if they abide by social distancing with limited capacity and are thorough in cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces.

But Mayor Cory Mason says the order doesn't mean the threat of COVID-19 is over.

"I want to be really crystal clear about this. This is not a green light to slack off," Mayor Mason said.

In fact, Mayor Mason and Police Chief Art Howell say the order will be enforced as a matter of public safety.

They expect residents to report businesses that aren't following the rules.

"As opposed to someone telling us who's selling drugs or who's shooting, they'll tell us who's putting people's lives in danger by not following this order," Howell said.

Trying to prevent another surge in cases, while getting businesses slowly back to work.

Health officials will re-evaluate the plan on June 30 – based on eight criteria – to decide where to go from there.

Mayor Mason says the health department will impose more restrictions if need be.

The Public Health Reopening Order specified within Forward Racine will be in full force and in effect on Tuesday, May 26 at 8 a.m.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason , Racine Public Health Director Dottie-Kay Bowersox and Racine Police Chief Art Howell on Friday, May 22 held a news conference to outline the city’s “Forward Racine” plan to reopen businesses.

All institutions and/or businesses must follow the identified materials below for compliance with the emergency public health order. Racine officials say these standards were based on, but modified from the Badger Bounce Back plan and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Reopen Guidelines for COVID-19.

1. Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and recommendations relating to disease prevention measures, including the use of face masks or cloth face covers, social distancing, and proper cleaning and sanitation. Resources are available here:

    2. Businesses operating multiple services must comply with the individual criteria established for each unique service (i.e. bar or restaurant components). Where there are conflicting specifications, the most restrictive applies. Reopening guidelines may be re-evaluated with respect to the emergency public health order.

    Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Reopen Guidelines:

      3. Businesses must ensure that provided reopening strategies are not to be construed as superseding state statutes and/or local licensing or permits issued.

      4. Specifications for Faith-Based Services, Religious Entities, Places of Worship, and Indoor Places of Arts, and Culture (such as movie & other theaters, social clubs, and museums).

        Public Health requirements for all institutions, businesses, and community members:

        Written and implemented hygiene policy and procedure that includes:

          Written and implemented cleaning policy and procedure that includes:

            Written and implemented protective measure policy and procedure that includes:

              Questions on the implementation of this strategy and how it affects specific organizations can be directed to the City of Racine Public Health Department at 262-636-9201 or publichealth@cityofracine.org.

              In addition, enforcement concerns and complaints can be forwarded through the City of Racine Crime Stoppers by telephone (1-888-636-9330), text message or online (www.racine.crimestoppersweb.com).

              Mayor Mason’s Statement After the Announcement of Forward Racine Plan:

              "After the release of the “Forward Racine” plan to reopen the economy at 8:00am on Tuesday, May 26th, Mayor Cory Mason released the following statement:

              “Today, our Public Health Administrator issued new Public Health orders which allow a reopening of the economy to begin in the City of Racine. However, I want to be crystal clear on this: this is not a green light to slack off. Racine's coronavirus cases continue to increase at an alarming rate. Healthcare systems have indicated that they are concerned about their hospital capacity. Racine residents are falling gravely ill from this virus, and some in our community are mourning the loss of loved ones. Our residents and our local businesses must continue to take all possible precautions to protect our community from this virus.

              The City of Racine cannot be an island of protections amidst a sea of chaos.

              The City of Racine has been put in an untenable position by failures at the state and national level:

              · Wisconsin's Supreme Court's irresponsible decision last week which lifted all statewide protections jeopardized the public’s health and eliminated the ability for the state to have a unified reopening plan.

              · Wisconsin's Republican legislators have refused to come to the table with the Governor to agree to common-sense, statewide protections and is a failure of leadership that endangers the lives of the residents they are supposed to serve.

              · And the failure of national leadership to guide our country through this crisis has also put the entire country at risk and certainly led to far more deaths than otherwise had to occur.

              As Mayor of Racine, I do not have the legal authority to override the state Supreme Court. I cannot make the state's legislators work with the Governor. However, I can, and will, use my position to encourage our residents to use common sense, to listen to the public health experts, to follow guidance from the CDC, and to stay home whenever possible.

              As we move into this first phase of reopening, let me be clear: to all who have been clamoring to reopen our local businesses, you now have a heightened obligation to keep your employees and customers safe. And to the residents who have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of their favorite bar, restaurant, or hair salon, I call on you to remember that what makes that business special are the people who work there and serve your drinks, prepare your food and wash your dishes, and cut your hair. If you enter our local businesses without taking proper precautions like wearing a mask, you are putting those employees and all the customers around you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

              Our residents need to continue to make sure they are safe, and that they are protected from this virus. And our local businesses have the same obligation as they reopen to make sure their employees and their customers are safe from this virus.

              Our City is home to thousands of essential workers who have not been able to stay home during this pandemic. Many had to make agonizing choices between protecting their health and losing their jobs. That includes our Public Health, Police, and Fire personnel, but also those workers who stock shelves and ring up your family's purchases at grocery stores, hardware stores, and pharmacies; the workers who deliver your take-out food, groceries, and packages to your front door; the workers who take care of your grandparents at nursing homes; and the workers who greet and assist you at your favorite local retailers. Racine has a proud history of innovation, made possible by our workers. It is more important than ever that all of us - our local businesses and all of us as individual residents and customers - do everything we can to protect our workers right now. All the Stay Safe Racine guidelines are as true today as yesterday.

              I am calling on our local employers to do everything they can to protect their workers and our community in the midst of this public health crisis. Their businesses are only as healthy as their own workforce. Local employers who have been open during this pandemic or who are opening back up now must take necessary steps to protect their employees and our entire community.

              Like many Racinians, I will be closely watching which businesses are protecting their employees and customers, and which ones are not. I will not hesitate to publicly acknowledge the good and the bad actors. And make no mistake, if the data shows us we are moving backwards, we will stop or back off of this reopening. If cases are traced to a business because of violations of this new order, we will publicly identify that business and we will shut that business down.

              The ability to begin opening up the economy on May 26th is NOT a declaration that the community is safe from COVID-19. I can say this unequivocally: No one is completely safe, there are only things you can to mitigate your risk. Hasty and reckless actions can still kill people.

              Be smart and stay safe, Racine.”

              Dottie-Kay Bowersox, MSA, Public Health Administrator, released the following statement: 

              “COVID-19 is the most significant threat to public health and economic viability since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Federal, state, and local leaders have taken unprecedented measures to protect their communities, such as the closing of schools and businesses, banning large gatherings, and placing residents under shelter-at-home orders. While these interventions have slowed the spread of COVID-19, they have also had wide-ranging effects on the local economy and social well-being of communities across the US and globally.

              As we move towards reopening businesses and resuming activities within our communities, public health professionals and community leaders must make informed but difficult decisions on how and when to modify existing State Orders; weighing the economic cost of prolonged mitigation measures against a second wave of the virus. Until effective treatment or a widely-distributed vaccine becomes available, the threat of the continued expansion of the viral disease is very real.

              This document reflects the thoughtful consideration given to balancing economic interests within the community against the needs of public health. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 252.03(1) and (2), provides broad authority and power for local health officials to prevent, control, and suppress COVID-19; provides that every local health officer “shall promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases”; provides that local health officers “may do what is reasonable and necessary for prevention and suppression of disease”; and provides that local health officers “may forbid public gatherings when deemed necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics”.