JEFFERSON — As businesses reopened across the state, a stark reminder that COVID-19 remains a threat came Friday as the Jefferson County Health Department confirmed that another resident has died due to infection.
This marks the third resident in the county who died as a result of the coronavirus.
The death comes one week after the first two patients passed.
“The Jefferson County Health Department extends our deepest sympathy to those affected by the loss of their loved one,” Jefferson County Health Department Director and Health Officer Gail Scott said. “We hope the family and friends know that their loved ones mattered and we are grieving with them.”
She said that, out of respect for the privacy of the family, the department will not release any more specific information on the death.
Scott also reported that as of Friday, 1,369 of the 1,515 tests given have been negative, with 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 29 probable cases and 67 suspect cases. Of those, 32 people have recovered.
She said that the hospitalization rate of patients has been 27 percent, and that there are eight open cases with contact-tracing investigations under way.
Located in both Dodge and Jefferson counties, Watertown has its own health agency. Thus, with the Watertown Health Department data included, the number of cases in the county totals 58 confirmed cases, with 1,537 tested.
As of Friday, Wisconsin had seen 11,685 cases of COVID-19 and 445 deaths, according to the Department of Health Services.
Local health officials across Wisconsin began rescinding their stay-at-home orders Friday after attorneys warned the mandates could be vulnerable to legal challenges after the state Supreme Court wiped out Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide “Safer-at-Home” extension through May 26.
The Wisconsin Counties Association posted a message on its website after the court ruled Wednesday saying it is unclear whether local orders mimicking the statewide mandate would stand up in court. Health officials in Kenosha County withdrew their stay-at-home order Thursday night in light of the WCA warning. Brown and Manitowoc counties and the City of Cudahy dropped their orders Friday afternoon.
“While the WCA and outside legal counsel did not opine that counties were outright prohibited from taking such actions, they did indicate that overall, the legal basis to do so is likely weak,” Brown County’s attorney, David Hemery told to the county’s health officer, Anna Destree.
Jefferson County had not enacted its own order; however, officials strongly encouraged residents to continue wearing facemasks and practicing social distancing.
Evers issued a statewide order in March banning nonessential travel and ordering nonessential businesses to close in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The order was supposed to expire in late April, but state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm extended it to May 26.
Republican legislators frustrated with the order’s economic fallout asked the state Supreme Court to strike the order down. The court ruled 4-3 on Wednesday to erase the order. Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said the order amounted to an administrative rule that was subject to legislative approval and that Palm lacked the authority to issue it unilaterally.
The ruling led bars, restaurants, hair salons and other businesses to open immediately or begin making plans to reopen. Fearing that infections might spike as people begin moving around again, about a dozen counties have issued their own stay-at-home orders.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baladauff, blamed the Supreme Court for creating confusion.
Adding to the uncertainty Friday was Republican state Sen. Steve Nass, who demanded that Evers withdraw his outline for a new emergency rule to manage the coronavirus pandemic in Wisconsin.
Nass serves as co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR), which has to approve any rule before it can take effect. He said Evers’ scope statement indicates he wants to restore elements of the statewide stay-at-home order.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court clearly ruled that Gov. Evers and DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm acted improperly and illegally by forcing every citizen of Wisconsin to stay home, close certain businesses, prohibit freedom of association and harshly restrict personal travel by the threat of criminal penalty, including arrest and jailtime,” Nass stated.
“Now, most rational public servants would get the message that the rule of law and the constitutional limitations on government are not optional or mere suggestions,” he continued. “The DHS Scope Statement leaves little doubt that Secretary-Designee Palm is no longer acting in a lawful capacity by circumventing the Supreme Court ruling and once again trying to improperly take control of the daily lives of every Wisconsin citizen.”
Nass said that the statutory powers of the JCRAR to suspend emergency rules are not in doubt.
“DHS is needlessly creating a political fight that does nothing to move the state forward on the legal and proper path of fighting COVID-19,” Nass said, calling on Evers to withdraw the Scope Statement and “end this needless confrontation before it escalates and leads to greater public discontent with the public health officials in this state.”
Associated Press contributed to this story.