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County Health Department announces enforcement of Emergency Order #3 as COVID-19 cases increase, deaths rise to 18

The La Crosse County Health Department announced Friday local enforcement of Emergency Order #3, a mass gathering restriction issued Oct. 6 by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in response to the statewide rise in coronavirus cases.

Emily Pyrek / Emily Pyrek La Crosse Tribune  

Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department, and Steve O'Malley, county administrator, announced local enforcement of Emergency Order #3 during press briefing Friday. 

The local advisory follows the same guidelines of the state order — indoor businesses, events and entities must cap occupancy at 25% — with no further capacity limitations added. Exemptions to the order will remain the same, with entities including schools, childcare settings, institutions of higher education, churches, political events, state or federal facilities, and organizations related to public infrastructure, health care or human services permitted to operate at their discretion.

The state order faces a court hearing at 9 a.m. on Monday in which the state can give its reasons why a temporary restraining order should not be in place. A Sawyer County judge earlier this week ordered a temporary restraining order.

The county Health Department is asking for voluntary compliance from all businesses, and says it has provided advisory education to area licensed businesses. Any law enforcement report detailing a violation of the advisory will be reviewed to determine if further action is needed, with violations subject to citations of up to $500 plus applicable court fees, depending on the frequency and severity of the violation.

During a press briefing Friday, Jen Rombalski, director of the county Health Department, said the action is due to high local COVID-19 activity and related deaths. Cases, Rombalski said, “have grown fivefold since August,” with a current case rate of 26.9 per 100,000. An additional four coronavirus deaths have occurred in the past two days, bringing the local fatality total to 18.

“There is a direct linkage between case increases to about two to four weeks later seeing increased hospitalizations and deaths,” Rombalski said.

Not all, but the majority, of the local deaths were among those in long-term care facilities, and Rombalski expressed her condolences to the families, reminding community members that while healthy residents may experience mild symptoms, the virus can be devastating to the elderly population.

Rombalski noted cases are increasing among the middle age population, in large part due to social gatherings. While Emergency Order #3 does not pertain to private parties or celebrations, she urges limiting attendance at such occasions.

Rombalski and county administrator Steve O’Malley, who co-hosted the briefing, emphasized the Health Department is not seeking citizen complaints or searching for violations. Conversation and education will be first steps if a valid report is brought forth by law enforcement, Rombalski said, noting, “Our first priority is to get voluntary compliance.”

Rombalski expressed thanks to businesses already adhering to the 25% capacity rule, and noted she has been in contact with the local Tavern League and the enforcement “should not come as a surprise to them,” adding the decision is not meant to target any one industry or sector. The Wisconsin Tavern League moved to sue Gov. Tony Evers over the order earlier this week.

“The point is not to look to cite and cause fears in businesses,” Rombalski said. It’s more to say, ‘If you’re not voluntarily complying and we get a credible report we are going to do something, because that has an effect on our entire community.”

O’Malley agreed enforcement is “a reasonable and necessary approach,” and Rombalski reiterated that, “Everything we do, including this advisory, is really in the best interest of every aspect of this county, not just the individuals but the businesses as well.”

After the press briefing, 94th Assembly district Rep. Steve Doyle released the following statement:

“Once again our county health department has been left in the lurch by the State’s legislative leadership. Wisconsin is currently experiencing a massive surge of this virus, and our local governments have been left in a vacuum to try to create a patchwork of strategies because of the state legislature’s failure to act.

“As I have said from the beginning, we need to sit down together to formulate a statewide plan. I am calling on our legislative leadership to call us into session immediately. We need to work on a comprehensive, bipartisan plan. Without a statewide plan, agreed upon by the legislature — Democrats and Republicans — and the Governor, we will continue to see case counts rise. Enough is enough. The legislature hasn’t met in six months. We need a plan — I don’t care who gets credit for coming up with it. We need to meet and work it out. I am ready to get to work.”

Local businesses with questions about Emergency Order #3 are asked to email

IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks
Violators are subject to citations of up to $500 plus applicable court fees, depending on the frequency and severity of the violation.

Halloween decorations light up the night at the home of Wendy Hazen at 2339 Winnebago St. Hazen has been decorating annually for about 20 years. She starts her elaborate seasonal displays with Halloween and it slowly changes for Thanksgiving and then Christmas.

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Names for Grandad Bluff trails will honor Indigenous people, history of La Crosse
Gateway Trail System Map

The Grandad Bluff trails have an official set of names, after the Board of Park Commissioners approved them Thursday night, and they pay tribute to La Crosse’s unique history.

The names for each trail in the now-named “Gateway Trail System” were crafted by a board of citizens in the community leading up to the opening of the trails just last week, as well as a survey that went out to the public.

“We used a group of community members, various individuals and families to generate a list of names for the potential trails that were put up on the bluffs,” said Jed Olson with Outdoor Recreation Alliance.

“So it wasn’t just a map,” said Robbie Young of the park commission, “but a community-involved naming process.”

Two of the trail segments are named after native Ho-chunk words: “Xee xete,” meaning mountain, and “Ni Tani,” which means three rivers.

Two other trail segments are named “War Eagle,” a steamboat that burned and sunk at the mouth of the Black River in 1870 and killed five people, which still lies at the bottom of the river to this day.

Other names include:

  • Tramway, to honor the street car rail system that used to climb the bluffside
  • Wilder Way, named after physical education professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Emma Wilder, an advocate for women’s recreation
  • Wolfsbane, a rare, floral family local to the area
  • Clara’s Climb, named after Clara Ebner, a descendent of the family who donated much of the blufflands
  • Compass, after the original trail system

The trail project is now finished and open to the public, with a little over five miles of trails and 10 segments, offering both multi-use, hike and bike only segments.

Users can access the trails at either the top or bottom of Grandad Bluff, with two access points on 29th Street and Ebner Coulee Region, as well as access points near the parking areas along Grandad Bluff Road.

On new trails, officials caution to be aware of dampness, and to turn back if your shoes or bike treads leave tracks to protect the trail.

IN PHOTOS: Fall color in the Coulee Region

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Local coronavirus deaths now total 18, state breaks daily case record with 3,861 new positives

La Crosse County experienced another high day of coronavirus cases Friday, with 61 new confirmed positives, and deaths rose by four, bringing COVID-19 fatalities to 18. At the state level, a daily record of 3,861 cases were reported, along with 21 new deaths.

The 61 local cases of COVID-19 put the positivity rate at 39.10%, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Friday marked the first time since Sept. 24-25 that the county has reported at least 50 cases on consecutive days, and the county has now averaged 33.14 new cases per day over the past seven days, up from 30.86 on Thursday but still down slightly from a week ago (34.43).

Total confirmed cases are up to 3,718, which grows to 3,873 when including probable cases.

Of Friday’s cases, 16 were people in their 60s and 13 were in their 20s. There were three new cases of people ages 0-9, four of people ages 10-19, seven in their 30s, eight in their 40s, six in their 50s, three in their 70s and one in their 80s.

With another high daily positivity rate Friday, the seven- and 14-day rates increased. The seven-day rate is at 36.08%, up from 20.49% on Thursday. The rate is more than triple what it was on Wednesday (11.18%) and nearly four times what it was a week ago (9.31%).

The 14-day rate is at 14.63%, up from 13.53% on Thursday and 12.34% a week ago. Total positivity continues to rise and is at 11.33%.

State data

With Friday’s 3,861 new positives, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now reached 166,186. Negative tests total 1,590,569, an increase of 10,725 since Thursday.

Another 135 Wisconsinites were hospitalized due to the coronavirus, with 9,027 ever hospitalized, and 21 new deaths were recorded, bringing fatalities to 1,574.

The La Crosse County Health Department reminds residents to wear fabric face masks when in public, practice physical distancing and to stay home when possible.

Those with any potential symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, chills, runny nose, congestion, muscle or body aches, cough, tiredness, headache, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, are asked to stay home and contact their provider for testing.

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Multimillion dollar Hamilton Elementary expansion breaking ground Monday

The School District of La Crosse will break ground Monday on the multi-million dollar expansion of Hamilton Elementary School, a project set to be completed in July 2021.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Hamilton Elementary

Emily Pyrek / contributed 

Hamilton Expansion

The nearly $4.8 million project will help make Hamilton Elementary a “full service community school,” offering support and resources for students, families and neighborhood members.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held 9 a.m. Monday near the school’s playground, with school district officials and project partner representatives present.

The project includes an 18,700 square foot addition that will include a new gymnasium, library and a community center space accessible to the Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhood. In addition, a 3,500 square foot area will be renovated to allow for additional classrooms and a “maker’s space.” The project was designed by Bray Architects and is being built by Borton Construction, Inc.

“Having full-size classrooms and separate cafeteria and gymnasium spaces will allow us to focus less on accommodating for the lack of space and more on learning,” said Hamilton Elementary principal Ben Burns. “This project will significantly increase the possibilities of our collaborative efforts and help us realize our potential to be the hub of this neighborhood.”

Contributing financially to the project are the Boys & Girls Club of Greater La Crosse and Gundersen Health System, which pledged $1.2 million each, and the La Crosse Community Development Committee, which awarded the district a two year, $400,000 grant to support the project. The remaining costs will be covered by the district’s fund balance and capital project funds.

“We are so thankful to have the continued and generous support of such wonderful organizations in our city,” said superintendent of schools Dr. Aaron Engel. “The partnership between the district, Gundersen Health System, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, and the City of La Crosse on this building project is representative of the amazing generosity of our community and the incredible things we can accomplish when we work together.”

IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks