CITY OF RACINE — Racine's Public Health Department has relaxed some restrictions in the city's "Safer Racine" ordinance after it saw its rate of COVID-19 cases drop.
One of the biggest changes is reopening schools with approved plans.
"All the schools within the City of Racine have submitted plans and do have approved plans," said Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the city's Public Health Administrator.
A spokesperson for Racine Unified School District staff said schools will reopen on Jan. 19 for staff if they choose or want to get their classrooms set up. That said, staff along with special education students who require in-person services can return on Jan. 25. The district is preparing to bring more students back for in-person learning.
RUSD said updates are expected in the coming weeks.
Bowersox said the city's COVID-19 case rate is a third less than what it was around Thanksgiving. It was previously about 1,600 positive per 100,000, now she says it is about 580 positive cases per 100,000.
Bowersox did note that there was limited community-wide testing available through Christmas and New Year's which could mask how prevalent the virus is.
"We’ve been basing our recommendations on the numbers on what we see, what we currently have. We've tried to project that as best we can, but at the same time we’re seeing and have seen that reduction in case rate," said Bowersox.
That said, Bowersox encouraged people to get COVID-19 tests and to continue following precautions of wearing face masks, social distancing, and staying home when they are sick.
The teacher's union insisted the school district cannot reopen safely, saying it has not met its gating criteria and that the numbers are artificially low.
In a statement, the Racine Educators United President said: "With community-wide testing resuming just last Thursday, Racine educators are calling on the entire community to come together and get tested so we can determine when it is safe to return."
The city also loosened restrictions for businesses. Racine is removing capacity limits for retail stores. Bars, restaurants, indoor recreational facilities, and licensed swimming pools may operate at 50 percent capacity up from the previous 25 percent limit. That change requires that 6 feet social distancing can be maintained.
"To be celebrating 50 percent capacity a year ago, I would’ve thought I was crazy to be saying words like that," said Corey Oakland, Owner and Manager at Red Onion Cafe.
Before this pandemic, most tables at the cafe would be full around lunchtime. However, Oakland said some days now it is a struggle to even reach the 25 percent capacity limit.
He has mixed emotions about the most recent changes, but hopes increasing restaurant capacity to 50 percent will help build customers' confidence.
"At least that things are trending in the right way. If we can generate at least a little bit more so say we’re closer to 35...maybe 40-45% of what we expected our sales to be I’m not gonna say it’s a lifesaver yet, but it sure is a lot better than where we are at right now," said Oakland.
Racine's latest changes begin on Jan.18.
The Public Health Department noted many school sports are still prohibited. Mass gatherings are still capped at 50 people for special events at private venues and mass gatherings at public venues remain banned.
For more information, click here.