Editor’s Note: The Hub has a print deadline of Tuesday afternoon. Some of the information included in this reporting is reflective of accurate information at that time. We will be updating our online story with developments.
The decision to close the Stoughton Public Library, which by definition is open to everyone, goes against everything Jim Ramsey stands for as a librarian, the Stoughton Public Library director told the Hub on Monday, March 16.
“To know that we are not here for people when they need us is very difficult,” he said. “My responsibility to public health trumps my responsibilities as a librarian.”
The cause for concern is in the quickly spreading coronavirus pandemic, which has brought 72 active cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 19 in Dane County.
The library, along with the Stoughton Area Senior Center and Stoughton Area School District, closed indefinitely to the public starting over the weekend.
It has also created limitations for local food pantries and difficult choices for Stoughton-area businesses, who are either reducing hours or cutting staff.
Nearly all local events have been canceled, including shows at the Stoughton Opera House, Stoughton Village Players theater and Sons of Norway Mandt Lodge. Restaurants and other indoor entertainment, such as the Cinema Cafe, are cut to half capacity, with no more than 50 patrons.
Ramsey, discussing the decision to close the library said he would love to look back and feel like he overreacted – but he doesn’t think that will be the case.
“You have to take decisive action early, and that is the kind of action that will make a difference,” he said. “If you wait too long any benefits from closing are lost.”
It was just as heart-wrenching for the Village Players to cancel the “Foreigner” play, which was planned for six March performances.
“It is so sad for our actors and crew to work months on this production and have nothing to show for it,” member Dan Prueher wrote to the Hub in an email. “It has never been done in our 50 years as a group, but we decided that it only makes proper sense for the health of everyone and the risk involved.”
The first cases of COVID-19 were seen in China in late 2019, and the disease has since spread internationally, affecting 182,000 people and killing 7,400. COVID-19 was deemed a worldwide pandemic March 11 by the World Health Organization, the first since H1N1 influenza in 2009.
Both local and state officials are taking action to prevent the spread of the virus.
Gov. Tony Evers announced the mandatory closure of all public and private schools on Friday, March 13, with a planned opening of Monday, April 6. Stoughton Area School District officials tentatively planned to begin virtual learning on Thursday, March 19, to extend until at least Friday, April 3.
On Monday, March 16, Evers announced during a conference call the ban of gatherings of 50 people or more, based on CDC guidelines put out Sunday, March 15.
On May 17, he ordered the DHS to drop that number to 10, with bars and restaurants able to serve takeout or delivery only.
“This isn’t a decision I made lightly, and we understand this will have an impact on Wisconsin workers, families, businesses and communities, but keeping folks safe and healthy has to be our highest priority,” Evers said.
Grocery stores, food pantries, childcare centers, pharmacies and hospitals are exempt from that order, he said. He directed Andrea Palm, state Department of Health Services secretary to impose the ban effective Tuesday, March 17.
Both Stoughton food pantries, the Stoughton United Methodist Church and the City Food Pantry are remaining open with regular hours. And although some grocery stores like Pick N Save, have reduced their hours, they remain open.
Most city government meetings were canceled by Friday afternoon. Stoughton Hospital implemented visitor restrictions on Monday, March 16 – allowing one visitor per patient and banning visitors 16 years and under.
Stoughton’s reaction to the crisis had started slowly but accelerated rapidly earlier that week, after confirmed cases in the county began to trickle in and national response ramped up.
The first Dane County case was announced Feb. 5, the second March 9, and eight more were added over the next week. Then, as national and international responses increased, local responses did, too.
On March 11, WHO declared it a pandemic and the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive and the United States began restricting travel to Europe.
As Major League Baseball, the NHL and NCAA basketball stopped play March 12, the Stoughton Opera House postponed all incoming shows, and local assisted living facilities went on lockdown including Skaalen Nursing and Rehabilitation and Kettle Park Senior Living. Statewide, the WIAA canceled all remaining sporting events, but not before the Viking boys basketball team got to play its sectional semifinal.
As President Donald Trump declared a national emergency March 13, the state ordered schools to shut down the following Wednesday until at least April 6 and many other Stoughton area events were canceled.
On Sunday, March 15, before the county held a news conference to announce the immediate closure of schools and limitations on gatherings, some churches limited their gatherings or held online sermons.
On Monday, March 16, as the county declared a state of emergency, several local restaurants shut down for the week, switching to carryout or drive-thru only.
That day, Ruby Sekhon, owner of Quick Stop, told the Hub he had to limit toilet paper to one roll per customer.
“I have never before seen anything before like this in my life,” Sekhon said.
During the county’s March 15 news conference, county executive Joe Parisi said the aggressive actions it and the state took are being done to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it becomes a major problem.
“Communities come together during challenging times to reassure and care for one another,” Parisi said in a news release. “We are ready for whatever lies ahead.”