The Galena Gazette is providing all of its news stories and photos of the COVID-19 pandemic with no payment required as a public service and in an effort so you can be totally knowledgeable as to how the pandemic affects you. Please consider a print or online subscription to support this vital reporting by a locally owned business .
GALENA–The Jo Daviess County Board of Health took steps to enforce COVID-19 isolation and quarantine measures by approving a county ordinance, 5-1, at its meeting on Oct. 1.
Board chair Merri Berlage was opposed. Board members voting in favor were Hesper Nowatzki, Peg Dittmar, Don Hill, Lisa Haas and Tracy Bauer.
The ordinance will now go to the Jo Daviess County Board on Tuesday, Oct. 13 for possible approval.
The approval came after board of health members and health department staff expressed concerns about privacy issues and enforcement.
“My only concern is that I don’t want to inadvertently break any laws when trying to enforce a new law,” said Nowatzki. “How do we avoid violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?”
Public health director Sandra Schleicher said that has been her concern as well.
“I can’t tell people who is in quarantine besides the three of us at the health department who are doing contact tracing,” said Schleicher.
Nowatzki thought the ordinance was well-written, but was still hung up on HIPAA concerns.
“I think somewhere along the line we have to do some enforcing, and this is better than nothing,” said Hill.
Nowatzki suggested a mask mandate would be easier to enforce.
“I can say from personal experience, with quarantining 60 kids from school, I would like to see something,” said Haas, who serves as school nurse at River Ridge. “I would like to see something with some recourse. I put out more than one thing about what quarantine means, and I know that I have a different population with younger kids that don’t get it or don’t think it will affect them. I am not out to punish anyone, but at the same time we were in school for six weeks and then had to shut down.”
Haas said as far as she knows, none of the cases at River Ridge stem from school and couldn’t be traced back to the school. She said it was likely from someone who wasn’t following quarantine rules.
“Maybe it will deter some people,” said Haas.
Berlage said she was concerned about a line in the ordinance that talked about someone suspected of having COVID.
“How do you clarify suspicion?” asked Berlage. “Am I going to call the health department and say that Don has a runny nose and is showing symptoms and that you should quarantine him? I don’t think that is right.”
“I don’t think we are going to deter everyone from breaking quarantine, but I do think an order will make some people stop and take pause,” said Haas.
Nowatzki said she had no problem adopting the ordinance, but the enforcement of the ordinance could be difficult.
Berlage was also concerned with the liability.
“How do you know if there is a violation?” asked Dittmar.
“It’s all hearsay, too,” said Nowatzki.
“If someone calls and says that, I can’t even say if that person is quarantined or not,” said Schleicher.
“I go back to the liability,” said Berlage. “That would kill us.”
Schleicher said the other issue is that the person would be out of quarantine before it is heard by a judge.
“I think the public wants us to do something,” said Nowatzki. “We are in crisis mode at this point.”
“People need to have something out there,” said Hill. “It is something.”
Board member Tracy Bauer said that the policy is a good idea, but that it is important to have policies that are enforceable.
County board chair Scott Toot addressed the board about the reason for the ordinance.
“The bottom line is that it would make it easier to enforce,” said Toot. “You can’t put someone in jail for COVID.”
Toot referenced the current communicable disease law that allows for a misdemeanor.
“The intent is that it is easier to go through with an ordinance violation because the burden of proof is less,” said Toot. “You have to go to a bench trial and as far as enforcement or privacy, it was just a tool for people that have not cooperated with a quarantine. People are posting on Facebook that they are positive.”
Toot said he doesn’t like to fine people either, but it is a public health emergency and that the ordinance could be a deterrent.
“All that it would take is a couple people to get this $150 fine. As harsh as it sounds, that will get people’s attention,” said Toot. “I don’t think you are going to have liability.”
“I liked what Scott said,” said Dittmar. “The health department does have the power to issue orders for isolation and quarantine. The issue that I see is we don’t have enough people at the health department to monitor the situation and truly get a grasp of what is going on.”
The board also:
•awarded the department’s two Madison Street parcels in Elizabeth to Troy Potter in the bid amount of $30,000.
•decided to rebid the Myrtle Street properties as the two bids for those parcels were below the minimum.
•amended fiscal year 2021 budgets.
•agreed not to raise food inspection fees for the upcoming year and also asked Schleicher to apply for the county’s Small Business Stabilization Grant program for 50 percent of the cost of the fees to give back to the businesses.
•approved setting the animal control fee for municipalities at $300 per dog.
•approved the purchase of a fit-testing machine in the amount of $18,880. The machine will fit N95 masks for individuals. The machine will be purchased with grant funding.