Dear editor,

My name is Bruce Grau and I live, work and play in Wausau.

I want to address issues related to the COVID-19 ordinance currently being discussed in committee (of the Marathon County Board) and opposed by the Wausau Chamber of Commerce.

I practice as a gerontological nurse practitioner in the field of palliative care. My primary setting is in nursing homes, attending to the comfort needs and care goal wishes of frail elderly people.

I am acutely aware of the potentially devastating effects of a COVID-19 outbreak among my residents. Nationally about 30 percent of COVID deaths have occurred in nursing homes, reaching 50 percent in individual states.

We’ve been extremely lucky beating this trend around here, having zero deaths of residents and  staff due to COVID-19. But our success can also be attributed to the vigilance of every facility in enforcing strict preventive measures, including quarantine, screening of symptoms, temperature taking and donning of personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE requirements vary between facilities, but they ALL mandate mask wearing.

Yet,  frail elderly comprise just a fraction of high risk individuals in our county. In addition to old age, obesity and low income account for high risk status. If you add the number of our residents considered obese (40 percent of 135,428), with those living in poverty ( 17.7 percent), and seniors 65 years and older (18,072), 85,395 of Marathon County residents are particularly vulnerable to the virus and face worse outomes than others. ( These numbers don’t take into account overlap between groups).

Transmission can occur with a single contact. If, on average, a person comes in contact with another three times (low ball), there are 256,185 chances on one day alone for transmission of a deadly virus to high risk individuals in our county.

Our numbers in the area are now surging.

The longer we delay in implementing effective preventive measures the quicker our luck runs out.

These measures include: Social distancing of 6 feet or greater. Limiting duration in an area to less than 30 minutes. Open air spaces are superior to closed ones. Minimizing the presence of the virus through frequent disinfecting of repeatedly used areas and wearing masks. Fifteen states have already enacted mandatory mask ordinances.

If our Chamber of Commerce claims any responsibility to our community’s health by working with business they have thus far demonstrated a thoroughly ineffective effort in my professional opinion. I base this on my observations frequenting popular places of business in the area on a regular basis. The above guidelines are not followed. (Menards and the YMCA prove the exemptions, though I have not yet frequented any restaurant).

This virus holds no political partisanship, but others have attached this mischaracterization to it proclaiming individual liberty.

Individual liberty comes with responsibility and extends to impeding another’s liberty and pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson was very clear about this. Our Chamber of Commerce is clearly in opposition to this foundational definition.

Thomas Jefferson, too, would butt heads with Chambers of Commerce.

Interestingly, an example of this rings all too familiar. During the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the rich fled the city for their country estates.  Parents and spouses deserted or evicted other family members suspected of infliction. Due to an environment ripe for transmission one in 10 citizens died. Afterward, Jefferson reflected upon this and correctly identified the root causes of this to be poverty and the cramped living conditions in which large concentrations of citizens lived. He then advocated for city planners to incorporate a grid pattern of  large open spaces alternating between residential and business areas. This model was then attempted in New Orleans and Jeffersonville, Indiana, but failed.

The chief culprit in destroying this approach was attributed to Chambers of Commerce and the intense political and financial pressures they exerted to expand business and development, thereby recreating the ripe conditions for deadly disease transmission.

We continue to pay dearly  today for their devaluing community health over business.

Another cataclysmic pandemic ravaged Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. England suffered 31 outbreaks of the black plague before leaving a way of life in utter ruins.

Marathon County Board members, you are at the crossroads of another such cataclysmic event due to pandemic. The effects of a second wave of COVID-19  will be devastating to our way of life.

You are facing similar  historic pressures to minimize preventive measures, but you have the science and power to at least slow the transmission, if not totally eradicate its presence from our community.

I support a solid proposal based on science with strong enforcement measures.

I call on you to not allow history to repeat itself, fearing unimaginable consequences.

Respectfully,

Bruce Grau of Wausau, gerontological nurse practitioner

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.