Covid-19 pandemic tightens its grip

All but essential businesses ordered closed as county coronavirus cases increase, National Guard called in to help at senior facility where man died of virus, first drive-through testing site opens

WORKERS IN PROTECTIVE GEAR swabbed a patient for a Covid-19 test at Ascension Medical Group’s mobile testing site in the parking lot at Grafton High School Tuesday. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

As Ozaukee County residents settle into a new normal under Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, which shuttered all but “essential” businesses and asked people to stay in their residences beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday and running through April 24, the reality of the coronavirus pandemic is also taking hold.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the county has increased from one a week ago to 16 on Wednesday, March 25.

That number includes the county’s first death. Robert Blackbird, a 91-year-old resident of the memory care unit at Village Pointe Commons in Grafton, who died of complications of Covid-19 on Thursday, March 19.

A day after his death, the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department announced there was an outbreak at the senior living facility, where three other residents in the memory care unit and a caregiver were confirmed to have Covid-19.

A team of six Wisconsin National Guard medics reported to the facility on Saturday for a three-day assignment helping to staff the senior living campus.

Washington Ozaukee Health Officer Kirsten Johnson ordered all long-term care facilities locked down, with virtually no one but staff members allowed to come and go.

First responders across the county put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment such as N95 masks.

Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin, which operates clinics throughout the county and Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Mequon, has opened a drive-through testing site at Grafton High School. People can be tested there by appointment only.

As the virus continues to spread, more and more businesses have closed. Downtown Port Washington has at times appeared more like a ghost town than a thriving business district as retail stores closed and restaurants were limited to take-out orders only.

Virtually all day-care centers have closed, including Community Learning Center, Port Washington’s largest, but the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville, which has canceled all its programming, continues to provide care for a limited number of children — primarily those whose parents work in industries considered essential.

“We were asked by the state and county to continue the program,” Rob Johnson, CEO of the Kettle Moraine YMCA, said. “It’s a critical piece to keeping things going.”

On Monday, he said, the YMCA was caring for 20 preschool children ages six weeks to five years, at the Saukville Y and Holy Trinity Church in Newburg and six school-age children at the YMCA. 

Many workers have been furloughed across the county as officials urge people to stay home. In Port Washington, the city sent a number of its employees, including workers in its street, water and parks and recreation department, home.

“With the work they’re doing right now, you can’t be six feet apart,” City Administrator Mark Grams said, adding that the situation will be periodically re-evaluated.

“They might be called in sooner than that depending on what needs to be done.”

Many municipal services have been shuttered. The Niederkorn Library in Port Washington, which had maintained its book drop and had been allowing residents to reserve books and pick them up from a window of the facility, closed both on Tuesday.

Events across the board have continued to be canceled or postponed. Pirate Fest, traditionally held in June, won’t be held this year, while the Hippity Hoppity Easter egg hunt and bonnet contest in Port Washington has been indefinitely postponed. 

Port Washington Mayor Marty Becker on Tuesday suggested that the Community Street Festival sponsored by Port Main Street Inc. also be canceled or postponed.

“If Summerfest (in Milwaukee) can be moved to September, so can this,” he said.

The news that brought home the impact of the coronavirus to many residents was the announcement Thursday that the county had suffered its first fatality from the disease followed a day later by Johnson’s announcement that there was an outbreak at Village Pointe Commons, a senior living facility in Grafton.

Blackbird, who had other health conditions and was diagnosed with Covid-19 after his death, was the second person in the state to die of the disease, officials said. 

The caregiver has not worked at the facility since March 14 and is being isolated at home.

Other residents of the memory care unit are being presumed to have Covid-19 if they exhibit symptoms, Bailey Murph, a senior public health strategist with the Washington Ozaukee Health Department, said Tuesday.

The health department is monitoring residents and caregivers and conducting follow-up as needed, she said, adding there have been “a couple additional cases.”

Johnson said Friday the Health Department is working with Capri Communities, which operates the Grafton care facility, to ensure everyone who came in contact with the patients is monitored and isolated.

“Every effort is being done to stop the spread of Covid-19,” she said.

Jim Tarantino, CEO of Capri Communities, said the company is doing “everything we can to maintain a healthy and safe environment.”

He said Capri is working with local, county and state officials, which are assisting with resources and staffing.

Johnson, he noted, “just delivered masks and other supplies we were getting low on.” 

Murph noted that the National Guard was called in to help at Village Pointe Commons because the facility was experiencing a staff shortage and needed additional people to help assess residents. 

The Health Department does not have laboratory evidence of community spread in Grafton except for Village Pointe Commons, Johnson said.

Evers’ Safer at Home order, which prohibits nonessential traffic for the next month, is aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

People are asked to remain home but may leave to go to the grocery store, get medication or see a doctor, care for a family member or child in another household.

Businesses are largely shuttered except for what are considered essential services, including health care operations, businesses that provide food, shelter and social services, banks, gas stations and auto repair businesses, laundry businesses, hardware stores, law enforcement and government.

Enforcement of the order is left up to local law enforcement agencies. 

“We’re looking for voluntary compliance with this,” Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said. “A lot of people are freaking out about this (worried that) if they have to go to the grocery store, will they be stopped?

“We’re not going to be having roadblocks. We’re not going to be stopping people.” The department is working to minimize contact between officers and individuals, he said.

“We’re being very selective as to who we stop and why. We don’t want to unnecessarily expose our officers,” Hingiss said, noting officers are wearing gloves, keeping hand sanitizer in their cars and cleaning the squad cars after transporting people. Instead of handling driver’s licenses, they are snapping photos of them.

The department lobby has been closed, with as much business conducted via the telephone, fax and email as possible.

“We’re still taking and investigating calls,” Hingiss added. “We’re still open for business.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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