A Medical Examiner Fought to Prepare Her County for the Virus. Then It Struck.

A Medical Examiner Fought to Prepare Her County for the Virus. Then It Struck.


Paulette Anderson of Hammond, Wis., a member of the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors, said that tensions over the pandemic response have been mounting in the county, especially in recent months. This week, the board considered an ordinance that would have tightened restrictions on businesses and made masks mandatory in indoor public places. It was rejected, nine votes to 10.

“It’s really become divisive,” Ms. Anderson said. “I believe in mask wearing and social distancing. I believe that you shouldn’t go into a business without masks. But lots of people don’t feel that way, and those folks don’t want to be told what to do.”

As more people in St. Croix County became sick from the coronavirus this fall, Ms. Schachtner was struggling with the demands on her staff. The five death investigators now work 12-hour shifts four days a week and spend 36 hours a week on backup. One staff member had to quarantine because of a spouse who was sick with the coronavirus.

Her own State Senate re-election bid was coming up in November, but Ms. Schachtner did not hold campaign events or knock on doors, worried that it was not a safe practice; her Republican opponent won easily.

Last week, Ms. Schachtner sent a memo to local funeral homes, some of which were at capacity, telling them they could use the refrigerated truck for their dead. The number of infections and virus deaths in the county was rapidly turning bleak.

“It was like a snowball,” she said. “Just all of a sudden the reality of what everyone said was going to happen was happening. And I feel like it was almost like people were like, ‘I never thought this was going to happen and this is actually happening.’”

Then the virus reached her own family.

Ms. Schachtner’s sister-in-law, about to have surgery, took a routine coronavirus test that came back positive. In the following weeks, more family followed: a brother-in-law, a sister and a niece, who was an aide in the nursing home where her father, Richard Rivard, lived.


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