Ashland and Bayfield counties on Monday issued an emergency advisory "requiring face coverings" while in local buildings following an alarming increase in local coronavirus cases.
The advisory will take effect at 8 a.m. Friday. The advisory "stipulates that everyone age 5 and older wear a face covering or mask when in any enclosed building where other people, except for members of the person’s own household or living unit could be present. This advisory applies to all of Ashland and Bayfield County."
“Public health research shows that face coverings are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Given the number of infections in our counties and surrounding area, as well as the multitude of visitors coming to our area, we need to all be wearing face coverings every time we leave the house,” Elizabeth Szot, Ashland County health officer, said in the Monday release.
Health officials did not immediately return calls Monday afternoon seeking additional information about the advisory.
As of Monday, 15 residents in Ashland and Bayfield counties had tested positive for COVID-19, up from just five a couple of weeks ago. Surrounding counties also are seeing surges in reported cases following the arrival of summer visitors; Iron County as of Monday had 17 reported cases; Douglas County stood at 61, and Sawyer County recorded 15.
“We do not take this advisory lightly," Sara Wartman, Bayfield County health officer, said. "It is on every person in our communities to do better. People should assume that everyone wearing a mask is doing it to protect you and themselves. If someone is not wearing a mask, assume they are genuinely not able to do so."
The order says everyone should wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in public, which includes in businesses, health care settings, waiting in line and on public transportation. It also says people should wear masks while in someone else’s home and exempts those with physical, mental or developmental conditions that prevents them from wearing a mask.
The advisory comes following a surge in local coronavirus cases, many of them connected to a hockey tournament held in late June in Ashland.
A total of 93 people were being monitored by the Ashland County Health Department Monday, including people who have had contacts with known COVID-19 patients and those who are symptomatic and still have test results pending. The county also has cleared 1,812 cases that were being monitored and have had three cases of people with COVID-19 who have recovered.
Szot said Monday that at least four of Ashland County's five new cases are connected to the tourney at the Bay Area Civic Center. She said the fifth case involves a resident who traveled away from the Bay Area and contracted the virus while out of town.
At least 13 COVID-19 cases in both adults and children have been tied to the hockey event that drew participants from three states to Ashland. One person who came down with the illness was a resident of Bayfield County who became ill after attending the tournament.
Szot said to the best of her knowledge, all of the new cases were recovering at home.
Wartman urged anyone who may have attended the tournament to get tested for COVID-19 infection.
She said local health departments were being stretched to their limits for contact tracing because so many suspected coronavirus carriers had been out in public visiting busy bars, restaurants and retail stores.
Families involved in the hockey tournament are known to have been to several local restaurants and hotels, but health officials have not identified those businesses. A visitor from downstate Wisconsin who was in Port Wing over the Fourth of July weekend spent time that weekend at the Port Bar & Restaurant before returning home and being hospitalized with COVID-19, health officials said.
The local numbers come amid a nationwide explosion in positive coronavirus cases that has followed as states reopened their economies with few or no safety mandates such as required mask-wearing. Many states and some Wisconsin counties now are adopting mandatory-mask ordinances.