Essential workers want central Wisconsin to stay home. Data suggests the public isn't listening.

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- While community spread of COVID-19 is now assumed in Marathon County and other counties across Central Wisconsin, social distancing and staying at home is not.

Coronavirus Shopping Photo: Philafrenzy / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0 via MGN.

According to a Unacast social distancing scoreboard project, a data company using anonymous cell phone data to track the movement of phones across the country, Marathon County registered a grade of ‘C’ in social distancing, as did Wisconsin overall. It wasn’t the worst in central Wisconsin; Portage registers a D, while Langlade and Wood Counties score an F. Farther up north in Vilas County, however, residents there get an A.

The score is calculated by comparing movement from before social distancing measures were implemented to movement after those measures. A score of C means that average daily movement is only down by between 20 to 30%. (Scores change frequently based on the most current data being inputted into the project, so the scores you see when you visit this project may not reflect the scores reported at the time of publishing.)

NewsChannel 7 has received scores of complaints from essential workers and others, saying some of the public isn’t properly respecting Governor Evers’ order to stay at home outside of essential shopping and activities.

“We are hearing people complain about the number of people that they see out and about,” Judy Burrows with the Marathon County Health Department told NewsChannel 7, referencing calls to their department. A post on NewsChannel 7’s Facebook page registered dozens of similar responses, alleging that people are seen going in groups to stores for nonessential purchases.

“Kids are running around unsupervised,” an employee of Rib Mountain’s Walmart told NewsChannel 7, who asked for anonymity out of concern for his job. “They’re shopping for electronics, cell phones, TV’s.”

Multiple gas station employees from around the area said many customers were coming in repeatedly to continue purchasing lottery tickets.

“It’s way beyond essential business,” a Medford gas station employee said. “I’m concerned about spreading the virus. If I get it, I’m gonna spread it to all my other customers. I’ve got a lot of senior citizen customers, and if they get it, it’s so deadly.”

Burrows said their hotline has been full of these types of concerns, as well as questions regarding what businesses qualify as essential or nonessential under the governor’s Safer-at-Home order.

“The essential businesses that are listed are listed by function and not by name…A lot of things have to do with the definition of what is essential,” Burrows said. “Certain essential goods like refrigerators or things to fix a faucet that are needed in order to keep your home safe and functioning—that becomes essential.”

But should you be making nonessential shopping trips to essential stores? The short answer is no. Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health recommend that people consolidate their essential shopping into a single weekly trip.

“When you leave home for your once-a-week grocery and pharmacy run, please exercise strict physical distancing. Stay at least 6 feet from each other,” DHS Secretary Designee Andrea Palm said Monday during a briefing.

Burrows recommends that only one person from a household enter the store to shop.

“Make a list of the things that you need,” Burrows said. “Rather than stopping once a day or twice a week, it should be a once a week trip. If everybody does this, we will see that grade C go higher.”

Right now, Wisconsin is projected to reach its peak of COVID-19 cases by late April, officials say. But that's only if people continue to police their own social distancing and stay home outside of the restrictions outlined in Evers' order. Exceptions include essential workers traveling to and from work, shopping for food and medicine, going outdoors for 'social distanced' activities like walking, and traveling to care for dependents.

Read about the methodology behind the Social Distancing Scoreboard here.

Editor's note: This data is changing quickly based on new data being fed into the project. The scores shown when you visit the project after this article was published may have changed since the time of publishing.