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‘Excited but also scared,’ Platteville businesses react as students return and COVID cases increase

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PLATTEVILLE (WKOW) -- Less than two weeks after students arrived on campus at the University of Wisconsin Platteville, the Grant County Health Department announced Tuesday two-thirds of recent confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county were among people between the ages of 18 and 27.

The latest numbers only added to the conflicting feelings Royal Palmer said he was feeling at the Driftless Market store downtown.

"It's really difficult to be excited but also be scared at the same time because there's this influx of humans that are now co-existing among each other," Palmer said.

On one hand, Palmer said he was excited to have students back in town as that could give the business a boost during an extremely challenging year. On the other, Palmer said he worried about the possibility of an infected student coming into the store and spreading the virus to either an employee or another customer.

"The problem is it creates so much other business like downtown bars and downtown clubs that now we are exposing ourselves to that exposure," Palmer said.

Grant County Health Director Jeff Kindrai said he could not share how many of the county's caseload over the past two weeks consisted of UW-Platteville students, citing privacy laws. The dashboard for the university reported 31 new cases among students over Labor Day weekend, bringing the total student case count to 36.

UW-Platteville spokesman Paul Erickson said as of Tuesday the university was not planning any new directives in response to the results.

UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said the university system is following the case trends closely on all of its campuses. On Monday, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank directed undergraduate students to limit their in-person interactions to "essential activities" amid a sharp increase in cases.

"President (Tommy) Thompson is in constant contact with university officials and monitoring conditions on each campus through daily meetings in the Operations Center he established," Pitsch wrote. "We will continue to consult with local health officials and other medical experts to determine how to best respond to any changes in the health of our campus communities."

Pitsch added a system-wide dashboard was set to go live Wednesday.

At the Driftless Market, there was a plethora of signs both outside and inside the business noting masks were required. Palmer pointed to a box of disposable masks at the front counter and said the store will give them away to anyone who needs them. He added people have filled a donation jar allowing the store to keep buying more masks as needed.

"It's really not an option as far as we're concerned," Palmer said. "We give them away just so everyone's protected."

Palmer said the business already has a plan in place to close the store for at least one week should someone at the business test positive for COVID-19. He added this was an especially important time for the business as it was getting ready to reopen its upstairs dining and retail area.

Like so many other businesses in college towns across the U.S., the market now relies on its community to stay open and safe. What's unique is that Palmer, his husband, sister, and brother-in-law bought the store as a joint venture in February. Palmer noted it was quite the time to go into business.

"If we can survive this, we should be able to survive anything," he said.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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