Area school officials were not surprised by a new state order that shuts down school facilities through the end of the current school year.

Last Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers directed Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to extend the Safer at Home order from when it was set to expire at 8 a.m., Friday, April 24 to Tuesday, May 26, or until a superseding order is issued. The order implements some new measures to ensure safety and support progress made in containing COVID-19, but also allows certain activities to start up again.

Ladysmith School District Administrator Mike Cox called the state’s action “nothing new.”

“We were expecting it and planned for it,” Cox said.

Bruce School District Administrator Pat Sturzl had been optimistic about a school reopening.

“I was not very surprised on the extension of the Safer at Home order,” Sturzl said. “I hoped schools could resume for a short time at the end of the school year for some closure for all students.”

Evers’ order requires public and private K-12 schools to remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Graduations are about a month away and other end of school year activities are less than that. The fate of some events are in question.

Ladysmith school officials are looking at alternative, virtual ways to have scholarship night, according to Ladysmith Middle & High School Principal Greg Posewitz.

“If we are not able to hold graduation as scheduled, we will do so as soon as possible after bans regarding gatherings have been lifted,” Posewitz said.

Prior to the initial Safer at Home order, health officials had a pretty grim outlook for what COVID-19 could mean for the state. He added the efforts to control the spread of the virus are working but noted the state is not out of the woods yet.

“As I’ve said all along, we are going to rely on the science and public health experts to guide us through this challenge,” Evers said in a statement. “So, as we extend Safer at Home, I need all of you to continue doing the good work you’ve been doing so we can keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and get through this storm together.”

Before the Safer at Home can be lifted, the steps of testing and more robust public health measures must be in place, according to DGS Secretary-designee Palm.

“These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus,”Palm said. “If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again.”

Bruce school officials are still holding out hope that some events still can be held, despite the governor’s order that calls for schools to close for the rest of the school year.

“At  Bruce, we are continuing our virtual instruction for the remainder of the school year and planning graduation and other activities for the remainder of the year,” Sturzl said.

Posewitz said he understands this is a very challenging time for everyone. 

“This has created tremendous frustration and anxiety for some of our students,” Posewitz said. “Safety is our first concern, along with the social-emotional well being of all our students. We will continue to support the education and academic growth of our students while doing everything we can to support them. It is important that we continue the education of our students to prepare them for their future- the next class, the next grade, or for our upcoming graduates, post-secondary education, military, work.” 

The extension of the Safer at Home order includes a few changes. Some changes allow more businesses and activities to open back up, while other changes help make businesses safer for employees and customers. The changes in this order include:

n Businesses and activities ramping up service and operations:

Public libraries: Public libraries may now provide curb-side pick-up of books and other library materials.

Golf Courses: Golf courses may open again, with restrictions including scheduling and paying for tee times online or by phone only. Clubhouses and pro shops must remain closed.

Non-essential Businesses: Non-essential businesses will now be able to do more things as Minimum Basic Operations, including deliveries, mailings and curb-side pick-up. Non-essential businesses must notify workers of whether they are necessary for the Minimum Basic Operations.

Arts and Crafts Stores: Arts and craft stores may offer expanded curb-side pick-up of materials necessary to make face masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Aesthetic or Optional Exterior Work: Aesthetic or optional exterior law care or construction is now allowed under the extended order, so long as it can be done by one person.

n Safe Business Practices:

Safe Business Practices for Essential Businesses and Operations: Essential Businesses and Operations must increase cleaning and disinfection practices, ensure that only necessary workers are present and adopt policies to prevent workers exposed to COVID-19 or symptomatic workers from coming to work.

Safe Business Practices for Retailers that Essential Businesses and Operations: Retail stores that remain open to the public as Essential Businesses and Operations must limit the number of people in the store at one time, must provide proper spacing for people waiting to enter, and large stores must offer at least two hours per week of dedicated shopping time for vulnerable populations.

Supply Chain: Essential Businesses and Operations that are essential because they supply, manufacture, or distribute goods and services to other Essential Businesses and Operations can only continue operations that are necessary to those businesses they supply. All other operations must continue as Minimum Basic Operations.

n Other changes include:

Schools: Public and private K-12 schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Local parks and open space: Local health officials may close public parks and open spaces if it becomes too difficult to ensure social distancing or the areas are being mistreated.

Travel: People are strongly encourage to stay close to home, not travel to second homes or cabins and not to travel out-of-state if it is not necessary.

Tribal Nations: Tribal Nations are sovereign over their territory and can impose their own restrictions. Non-tribal members should be respectful of and avoid non-essential travel to Tribal territory. Local government must coordinate, collaborate, and share information with Tribal Nations.

Duration: The changes in this order go into effect on Friday, April 24. The order will remain in effect until 8 a.m., Tuesday, May 26.

The public should continue to follow simple steps to avoid exposure to the virus and prevent illness including:

— Avoiding social gatherings with people of all ages (including playdates and sleepovers, parties, large family dinners, visitors in your home, non-essential workers in your house);

— Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water;

— Covering coughs and sneezes;

— Avoiding touching one’s face; and

— Staying home.

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