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Coronavirus: 91 new cases in seven days in Price County

The number of Price County residents who have received tests confirming they have COVID-19 continues to grow, with 73 active cases as of Monday and 599 total cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

This illustrates an increase of 91 new cases since seven days previous on Nov. 9. The previous week saw 71 new cases, and the week prior saw 79 new cases.

Thus far, there have been 129 new cases confirmed in Price County since Nov. 1. In September, Price County documented 105 new cases. October saw 275 new cases over the course of the month, for an average of approximately nine new cases per day.

As of November, cases in Price County are growing at an average of approximately 10.75 new cases per day. If Price County continues at this rate, the county will record an estimated 322 new cases by Nov. 30.

According to data published by the Price County Health Department on Nov. 13, confirmed cases in individuals with a Phillips area zip code were up by 19 from a week previous for a total of 219 cases; cases in people with a Park Falls zip code were up by 24 for a total of 132; cases in people with an Ogema zip code were up by 12 for a total of 54; cases in people with a Prentice zip code were up by five for a total of 36; cases in people with a Fifield zip code were up by two for a total of 23; cases in people with a Kennan zip code were up by four for a total of 22; cases in Price County residents with a Butternut zip code were up by seven for a total of 22; and cases in people with a Catawba zip code were up by two for a total of 16.

Cases in Price County residents with a Brantwood/Tripoli or Rib Lake zip code had not increased in the previous seven days.

Price County isn't the only county seeing an increase in case numbers however. All

eight of the counties surrounding Price have also seen a sharp increase in the number of active cases over the past seven days.

As of Monday night, Oneida County had 614 active cases for a total of 1,884 cases since the start of the pandemic — up by 260 new cases since a week previous.

Lincoln County had 264 active cases for a total of 1,560 cases — up by 276 new cases from the week previous.

Taylor County had 502 active cases for a total of 928 cases — up by 212 from the week previous.

Vilas County had 272 active cases for a total of 1,012 cases — up by 159 from the week previous.

Rusk County had 367 active cases for a total of 617 cases — up by 234 from the week previous.

Sawyer County had 181 active cases for a total of 660 cases — up by 149 from the week previous.

Ashland County had 290 active cases for a total of 532 cases — up by 110 from the week previous.

Iron County had a total of 299 cases, up by 33 from the week previous. At the time of printing, Iron County had not released the current numbers of those who actively had the virus.

The weekly number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 symptoms declined sharply in Price County in the past seven days, with seven new individuals hospitalized since Nov. 9, compared to the 37 hospitalized between Nov. 2-9.

Still, the regional hospitals in north central Wisconsin remain quite full, standing at 91% capacity as of Monday night. Of the 1,014 beds in these hospitals, 920 were in use, leaving only 94 available for new patients. Of those 920 in-patients, 255 had a lab-confirmed COVID diagnosis. Fifty of those patients with COVID-19 were in the hospitals' intensive care units.

There were an additional five patients awaiting the results of their COVID test.

There were 225 ventilators available in north central hospitals, 46 of which were in use.

Statewide, hospitals were at 87% capacity as of Monday, with 9,689 of the state's 11,111 beds in use. There were 2,278 COVID patients in hospitals, 456 of which were requiring intensive care.

There were an additional 167 patients with a COVID-19 test pending.

Since the start of the pandemic, 14,499 Wisconsinites have been hospitalized due to the virus. The state currently stands at a 4.6% hospitalization rate, which Price County has nearly doubled at 9%.

As of Monday, 91 people have been hospitalized due to the virus in Oneida County, 20 of which were current; Lincoln County has had 70 hospitalizations; Taylor County has had 46 hospitalizations, 16 of which were current; Vilas County has had 59 hospitalizations; Rusk County has had 21 hospitalizations; Sawyer County has had 26 hospitalizations; Iron County has had 15 hospitalizations; and Ashland County has had 27 hospitalizations.

As of Monday, Wisconsin had recorded 316,758 confirmed cases of the virus, 70,205 of which were active. There have been 2,649 deaths associated with COVID-19 in the state. A total of 243,841 people have recovered.

Prentice schools go remote Nov. 17-29

Due to an increase of coronavirus cases within the Prentice School District and surrounding community, the district has transitioned to remote learning from Nov. 17 through Nov. 29 in an attempt to curb the spread.

There was no school held in the district on Monday as staff and students prepared for the change. Students took home textbooks and remote learning devices if needed.

All extracurricular activities were canceled, including open gym.

Due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, there will be only four days of virtual instruction Nov. 17-20 and two days next week Nov. 23-24.

The district plans to return to in-person instruction on Nov. 30 if conditions have improved.

Current information on the number of students and staff quarantined in the district was not available at press time.

Phillips Elementary staff and students will return to in-person instruction next week after a period of remote learning from Nov. 12 through Nov. 20 due to a spike in cases. Students in 4K and 5K were provided with materials to work on from home, while those in first through fifth grade participated in virtual learning. Meals were also available for pickup for families who requested the option.

The Phillips 6-12 campus is currently continuing with inperson instruction.

As of Monday, two Phillips School District employees and four students had confirmed cases of the virus. There were 10 members of staff and 20 students in quarantine.

Butternut School District resumed in-person classes on Nov. 9 after a two-week period of virtual learning.

Chequamegon School District remains open for it's hybrid instruction with some days virtually and others on campus. There are three confirmed cases of the virus in students and two in staff. Nine employees and 44 students were in quarantine as of Monday.

County budget set for next year

A budget of $28,700,079 for 2021 was approved by the Price County Board of Supervisors at the Nov. 10 meeting. No comments or questions were received during the public hearing held prior to the board's approval.

A tax levy of $10,541,892 has been set for next year.

Exception made for supervisor attending without a face covering

The meeting started with an unexpected topic, namely the presence of county supervisor Ginny Strobl in the county board room.

Since Price County adopted a policy requiring all employees to wear a face covering (unless they have a formal doctor's note exempting them from following Governor Tony Evers' state mandate), Strobl has attended meetings virtually in recent months. Her telephonic attendance has been complicated by technical difficulties that occasionally make the meetings difficult to follow or understand.

At approximately 6:13 a.m. on the morning of the meeting, an email was sent from Strobl to county administration. According to county administrator Nick Trimner, the email was not a formal letter from a medical profession, but stated that Strobl should not have to wear a mask due to sensitive dry eyes.

According to Trimner, the county's policy allows employees with valid medical reasons to not wear a face covering if they have a formal doctor's note. County employees with such an exemption are allowed to work without wearing a mask, provided they maintain appropriate distance from all other individuals they may encounter during the work day.

Trimner told the county board that the email received from Strobl was not sufficient to comply with the county's policy, and said that in the case of an employee, administration would work with that individual to get proper medical documentation.

Strobl attended the meeting in person, not wearing a face mask, but distanced from anyone else in the meeting by at least six feet.

Since the email provided by Strobl did not comply with the county's policy, county board chairman Bob Kopisch recommended that a roll call vote be taken as to whether Strobl should be allowed to stay in the meeting.

The vote passed 8-3 in favor of allowing Strobl to stay for the duration of the meeting. Voting in favor were supervisors Alan Barkstom, Jeffrey Hallstrand, Jim Hintz, Mark Kyle, Waldemar Madsen, Jordan Spacek,

Strobl, and Kopisch. Voting against were Paula Houdek, Larry Palacek, and Dennis Wartgow.

A number of supervisors, including Houdek, Palacek, and Wartgow, voiced concerns about allowing Strobl to participate in the meeting in person. Hintz said that while he personally didn't care for wearing a mask, he believed everyone should work together and "bear up" under the regulations put in place for others' safety.

Barkstrom and Madsen said they did not have an issue with Strobl attending as long as she maintained the required distance.

Strobl informed the board that while wearing a mask affects her eyes and makes her vision blurry, she has been very careful, avoids going out in public, and maintains distance whenever she does.

Strobl was allowed to remain and participate in the meeting.

As of Nov. 17, an updated medical note had been provided to the county, according to Jean Gottwald, county clerk.

County extends pandemic related administrative flexibility through February

The county board voted to extend their resolution allowing for emergency administrative flexibility due to COVID-19 through Feb. 28, 2021. This resolution — which allows county administration to close county buildings as necessary, implement staffing and policy changes to ensure essential services continue uninterrupted, and maintain employees' benefit status regardless of hours worked — has been in place since March 17.

It has been extended or amended four times due to the ongoing pandemic.

Strobl made a motion to add a paragraph to the resolution reading, "... while allowing the county board supervisors to continue to represent their constituents in the most effective way possible while protecting themselves and others by choosing social distancing or a mask or both."

Wartgow questioned whether this was a request to override the county's existing policy on face coverings.

Strobl said that she felt she was being marginalized by being prohibited from attending meetings in person unless she was wearing a mask, and said she felt unable to adequately represent her constituents due to the quality of the telephonic meetings.

A number of steps were taken during the Nov. 10 meeting to improve the audio quality of the meeting for those listening in over the phone.

Kopisch noted that he also participates in several electronic meetings each week.

"I don't think anything has been done from the county's side to marginalize any employee or supervisor by what we're doing," he said. "The fact of the matter is we are in a serious situation in this country ... it's not getting better, it's getting worse. Taking precautions is not marginalization and I think the county has the responsibility to its employees to take the measures necessary to protect the workplace."

A roll call vote on Strobl's proposed amendment failed 2-9. Casting the two votes in favor were Strobl and Barkstrom.

A roll call vote on extending the original resolution passed in a 10-1 vote, with Strobl casting the sole no vote.

Tax deed process approved

The county has started the process of issuing tax deeds against 93 parcels of land whose owners are delinquent in paying their 2017 real estate taxes. Among these properties are parcels of land owned by the Park Falls Development Corporation (the company that owns and operates the Park Falls paper mill) and Phillips Lionite Wood Products.

For the two parcels of property owned by the Park Falls Development Corporation, the county is owed $113,745.68.

For the two parcels owned by Phillips Lionite, the county is owed $43,113.30.

Kopisch told the board that the owners of Phillips Lionite were in negotiations with the county treasurer and were expected to be making a payment in the near future.

Appointments made

A number of individuals were appointed to various boards.

Suzanne Ocker and Sally Huml were appointed to the Health and Human Services Board for three year terms. Ginny Strobl was temporarily appointed to the same board until May 31, 2021.

Susan Marshall was appointed to a three-year term on the Indianhead Federated Library Board.

Gail Redmond, Theodore Harvey, and Mitchel Surman were appointed to three year terms on the Veterans Service Commission.

Ron Kendziera was appointed to the Price-Taylor Rail Trail Corridor Commission.

County receives additional insurance settlement for fairground damage

Early this year, the west wing of the historic livestock barn collapsed at the Price County Fairgrounds and during the subsequent structural evaluation, the Open Class building was also determined to be structurally unsound.

However, the county's insurance provider for the fairground, Municipal Property Insurance Company, declined to pay out insurance funds above $5,000, citing pre-existing structural integrity issues in both buildings.

Over the past months, county administration has continued to pursue a higher settlement, and MPIC recently offered a settlement of an additional $17,000 for a total of $22,000. The county has accepted this offer and will be moving forward with pursuing contractor bids to remove the collapsed barn wing and Open Class building.

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