Officials say reducing COVID-19 cases depends on community cooperation

Local law enforcement receiving influx of complaints about large groups of people in parks
Disregarding distance
Law enforcement is getting complaints of large groups gathering on La Crosse County Road FA. Neighbors are concerned for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Law enforcement in La Crosse and La Crescent are getting complaints about large groups of people showing up in parks. Local police officials say resources are at a premium and these calls tax their resources.

A fine may not be given for breaking the rules, but people’s decisions can make life more dangerous for the community. There were things that were okay to do just a short time ago. However, now people’s health is at risk. There are rules in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading here.

There are people who choose not to follow these rules. La Crosse Sheriff Jeff Wolf said County Road FA in Upper Hixon Forest receives far more patrol than any other portion of La Crosse County. Captain Jason Melby says there are a lot of complaints from neighbors, especially now.

“We’ve gotten complaints of large groups in the park,” Melby said.

One neighbor told News 8 Now teenagers and other people arrive in high numbers. Sometimes cars arrive with five people. This person is concerned these people are placing the neighborhood at risk.

Unacast.com tracks people’s cell phones and looks at their average distance traveled. Right now the U.S. has an A rating when it comes to social distancing. La Crosse County had an A rating on March 22. A week later it fell to a D.

“We are seeing this really good trend trying to reduce our number of cases and slowing down our growth rate,” said Jacquie Cutts, La Crosse County nursing officer. “But that was based on when we were really successful which is why we want to encourage the public to continue practicing social distancing.”

Similar complaints of large groups of people gathering are happening in La Crescent at Old Hickory Park.

“When I arrived on scene there were probably in the neighborhood of 15-20 individuals who were out there,” said La Crescent Police Chief Doug Stavenau, about a complaint he received Monday.

Stavenau said his department is trying to deal with these issues.

“The police department has limited staff,” he said.

Stavenau said Minnesota’s Governor is leaving it up to each jurisdiction to handle these situations.

“The only time that he wants us to cross that threshold to enforcement is when there is blatant disregard and the public at large is placed at risk,” he said.

That doesn’t mean people should disregard rules for safety. When officers have no choice but to respond, Melby said their health is put on the line.

“We don’t want to have our officers responding to a situation to have to make contact with 30 strangers…if we don’t have to,” Melby said.

It’s hard to predict whether groups gathering in a park will put people at risk. The fact is, the longer flattening the curve takes, the longer these rules will stay in place.

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