Editor’s note: The Cap Times staff is working to provide answers to readers’ questions about coronavirus so they can make sound decisions about their health and daily lives. Staff will update this story as new information becomes available and as we're able to answer more of your questions. Find a form at the bottom of this article to submit questions of your own.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced additional measures Tuesday limiting city services in the hopes of curbing community spread of the novel coronavirus.
Rhodes-Conway also announced paid emergency leave for employees who need time off work for reasons related to COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus.
“In these extraordinary times, our city employees are working incredibly hard to maintain essential city services,” Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “We are taking these measures to protect our employees and the public while delivering as many services as possible.”
Also Tuesday, Public Health Madison & Dane County announced several new cases of COVID-19 that indicate community spread of the virus. Community spread indicates there is no known source of the disease, such as recent contact with an infected person or travel from an area with a high number of cases.
All city employees will be granted two weeks of emergency leave time for pandemic-related absences. Also, all city employees will be able to borrow against sick-leave balances that are expected to grow over the course of 2020 to help ensure that absences do not result in a loss of pay.
"You never 100% prepare for something like this, but I feel pretty good about the pace at which the city has been planning and getting out ahead of things to make sure we're getting what we need on the public health front," Rhodes-Conway said in an interview Tuesday.
Some Dane County employees will also be working remotely, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced Monday. Also, when possible, county staff are limiting face-to-face meetings, using more phone and video conference tools and re-configuring offices to comply with social distancing measures.
Parisi also declared a state of emergency, which allows the full allocation of county resources be made available to continue core county services. It may also allow the county to more effectively seek federal reimbursement for public expenses incurred as a result of pandemic response work.
“By stepping forward and taking aggressive action, we’re hopeful we’re doing our part to slow the spread of this illness,” Parisi said in a statement. “Communities come together during challenging times to reassure and care for one another. County employees signed up for public service work because they value community. We are ready for whatever lies ahead.”
Parisi’s chief of staff Josh Wescott said employees are continuing to be paid, and the “significant majority” of them are working remotely. He said the Feb. 5 notice of the first person in Dane County to be diagnosed with the coronavirus allowed the county to prepare for possible work from home scenarios.
“We’ve had several weeks to really fine tune these things to get the equipment we need,” Wescott said. “It’s been incremental, but gradually, the trend line has accelerating toward less and less face-to-face contact and less and less in person work.”
Additional protective measures for city of Madison services include limiting most public visitor services the city provides, including walk-up counters and community centers’ public visitor access. Public visitors will still be allowed at the clerk’s office, police district stations and the city treasurer’s office.
The public will be able to access city services online and by phone.
Metro Transit bus service will continue with reduced operating and services levels.
Beginning March 18, capacity on Metro Transit buses will be limited to 15 passengers plus the driver. Passengers should exit through the rear doors and maintain a distance of six feet from the driver and fellow passengers at all times, except for brief periods during boarding.
Metro Transit is asking that people take the bus only for essential trips, such as travel to employment, medical appointments and grocery stores.
Metro Transit will reduce service and follow Saturday schedules all seven days of the week starting March 23. Metro will continue to provide regular weekday commuter service to Verona/Epic (Routes 55 & 75), Fitchburg (Routes 44, 48 & 49), Sun Prairie (Route 23) and Middleton (Route 72).
The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus routes will operate regular standard weekday service Monday through Friday and standard weekend service on Saturday and Sundays.
Metro Transit is also implementing preventative maintenance measures such as wiping down high-contact areas in buses, Metro garage and operations areas with disinfectant. Also, Metro has purchased fogging machines to spread disinfectant throughout buses in addition to buying hand sanitizer, Kleenex and rubber gloves for employees.
Metro is encouraging riders, especially paratransit riders, who are more susceptible to illness to stay home.
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