Bayfield County health officials have ordered a halt to all public gatherings in the county through January 3 in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus.
County Health Officer Sara Wartman late Friday at the end of a week in which COVID cases continued to climb in the Bay Area.
Bayfield County had lost 16 residents to the virus as of Friday while Ashland County has recorded 11 deaths, two of which occurred last week.
Confirmed cases in the area were climbing by double digits daily over the past week, and Wartman’s order said “many new positive cases for COVID-19 in Bayfield County are directly related to large gatherings.
The order defines a public gathering as any group of non-related people who are in a space that prevents them from maintaining social distance of 6 feet for at least 10 minutes. The order also prohibits any indoor gathering of 100 or more people with some exceptions such as schools and large workplaces.
“This order is issued based on evidence of increasing transmission of COVID-19 within Bayfield County, scientific evidence regarding the most effective approaches to slow the transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically, and best practices as currently known and available to protect members of the public from avoidable risk of serious illness or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19,” Wartman wrote. “Although most people who contract COVID-19 do not become seriously ill, people with mild symptoms and asymptomatic people with COVID-19 place all vulnerable members of their family, their coworkers, their neighbors, at risk for life threatening disease. Also, previously thought to be a benign disease in otherwise healthy people, there is a growing body of evidence that even among those who have experienced a mild case of COVID-19, there are very high rates of long lasting heart, lung and/or neurologic disease.”
The order follows several others that have failed to contain the spread of coronavirus in the Bay Area and across Wisconsin.
Wartman earlier issued orders prohibiting gatherings of fans for spectator sports, and Red Cliff tribal officials have ordered all residents to stay home unless necessary. Those provisions came as Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and his health department ordered masks to be worn across the state — an order that still is being ignored by many residents.
“Bayfield County families are suffering from the economic hardship which efforts to prevent COVID-19 spread have caused,” Wartman’s order says. “Bayfield County families and children desperately need schools to be able to safely reopen. Failing to control the spread of the virus will only prolong the economic hardship by prolonging inability to open schools.”
Wartman was joined over the weekend by a chorus of top health officials who warned Americans not to let their guards down with a coronavirus vaccine perhaps weeks away from beginning distribution.
“The vaccine’s critical,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “But it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge.”
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to take up a request Thursday to authorize emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine. Vaccinations could begin just days later, though initial supplies will be rationed, and shots are not expected to become widely available until the spring.
With the U.S. facing what could be a catastrophic winter, top government officials warned Americans anew to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures — precautions that President Donald Trump and other members of the administration have often disdained.
“I hear community members parroting back those situations — parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” Birx said. “And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong and you can see the evidence base.”
The virus is blamed for over 280,000 deaths and more than 14.6 million confirmed infections in the U.S. New cases per day have rocketed to an all-time high of more than 190,000 on average.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.