As the COVID-19 crisis continues to grow more real to Fitchburg residents, businesses and other organizations have been adapting to what seems like new realities every day.
National, state and local restrictions aimed at stemming the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus grew tighter every few days, with Gov. Tony Evers declaring on Tuesday, March 24, that only essential business operations may continue. What qualified as essential was a long list that included all food service, professional services, charity organizations, construction, delivery and financial institutions.
That 16-page edict – foreshadowed four days earlier with an update to the governor’s March 17 mass gatherings order – still forced many Fitchburg businesses to adjust their models or close, at least temporarily. Sit-down restaurants and bars either stopped serving or switched to curbside pickup, funeral homes restricted visitors and fitness centers closed their doors or turned to online videos, while grocery stores and drive-thru restaurants stayed as busy as ever.
And students in Fitchburg’s three school districts will get their first taste of learning from home, if they haven’t already. Verona Area School District students completed two days of online schooling last week – something that seems increasingly likely could finish out their school year, and Oregon School District students will begin online schooling March 30. Madison Metropolitan School District is offering enrichment materials online, but won’t mandate virtual learning until April, according to a March 22 Capital Times story.
City Hall has had to make adjustments, too. With an influx of requests for absentee ballots and concern for the health and well-being of city employees, the building closed indefinitely at the end of the day March 24. People will be let into the building for appointments with city staff only.
The city’s first responders have found themselves in a pinch for supplies as a result of COVID-19.
Earlier this week, Fitch-Rona EMS and the fire department put out a call for personal protective equipment, or PPEs, including masks, patient gowns and face shields.
The COVID-19 crisis accelerated quickly in the United States starting March 11, when the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. At that point, just over 4,000 people had died of the disease, which causes respiratory distress in addition to influenza-like symptoms. As of the afternoon of March 25, it had claimed more than 19,000 lives, with 438,000 confirmed cases worldwide, about 10 percent of them in the United States, according to the Center for Science Systems and Engineering.
In five days, it went from a curiosity and a concern many people in Fitchburg and elsewhere shrugged off to a national emergency.
By March 13, almost all major American professional and college sports were canceled as a handful of high-profile positive tests made the spread of the virus more tangible.
In Wisconsin, all schools were either closed or soon to be closed and high school sports and other school activities canceled. Three days later, state orders prevented restaurants, bars, churches and many other businesses from functioning by restricting the number of people allowed to gather to 10.
By the time Evers announced his plan to sign the “Safer at Home” order on the morning of March 23, more than 10,000 people had signed a Change.org petition asking for it.
That order, apparently patterned after the March 19 “Safer at Home” order Los Angeles passed, made only incremental changes to previous limitations. Similar to other states’ “Shelter in Place” requirements, it encourages people to stay home, rather than going out in public, Evers and his staff told reporters in a March 23 media briefing.
In his tweets and later in the order, Evers required people to severely limit social interactions.
“That means no sleepovers, no play dates, and no dinner parties with friends and neighbors,” he tweeted March 23. “Please don’t take any other unnecessary trips, and limit your travel to essential needs like going to the doctor, grabbing groceries, or getting medication.”
With the weather finally beginning to break out of the winter slump, many people got exercise over the weekend. While playgrounds at city parks were ordered to close, people could still be seen out jogging or walking dogs.
With Americans increasingly worried about their financial situations, national, state and local leaders tried to reassure people they are protected. The U.S. Senate debated a $1 trillion bill that would provide $1,200 per person and bail out struggling businesses while Wisconsin prohibited utility companies from shutting down services and Dane County announced it would not enforce evictions.
Evers’ tweets clarified some workers who could continue to go to their jobs.
“That includes folks like healthcare professionals, grocers, family caregivers, among other people whose work is critical for folks across our state,” he tweeted.
While only 70 of the roughly half-million people in Dane County had tested positive for coronavirus as of March 23, scientists are expecting a sharp rise in the number of cases because of the virus’ long incubation period.
That duration between catching the virus and showing symptoms is typically more than five days, according to a study published in Science Daily, and sometimes 11 days or more, compared with about two days on average for the flu. That means people can carry and transmit it to many people without knowing it.
While the virus typically is most deadly to older people and those with underlying health conditions, one of the biggest concerns expressed by political leaders and health experts is the potential collapse of the health care system by having more people in need of ventilators than hospitals can provide. This has been the case in Italy, where nearly 10 percent of the more than 60,000 infected had died by March 23.
In Dane County, about one-fourth of people who had tested positive as of March 23 had no known exposure to anyone with a positive test, travel history or health care, according to that day’s release by Public Health Madison Dane County.
“This tells us that community spread is happening,” the release stated. “Every person who stays home makes it more difficult for COVID-19 to spread.”