MADISON – A week after Gov. Tony Evers announced the milestones necessary for the state to reopen, multiple questions remain about how and when it will happen.
And so far there is little way for the public to know whether enough progress is being made in the state’s fight against coronavirus.
The Democratic governor’s administration has unveiled an online dashboard meant to track progress on the benchmarks Evers set, but the data includes gaps.
For instance, the administration and hospitals have not agreed yet on what metrics to monitor related to the ability of hospitals to treat patients, and there is no information posted related to contact tracing or personal protective equipment.
All were elements Evers set out in his Badger Bounce Back plan unveiled last week. On Monday, Evers announced plans to allow more businesses to offer dropoff and curbside services.
He also made clear that, for now at least, he does not want to reopen different regions of the state at different times — an idea championed by some Republican lawmakers who have sued the governor over his stay-at-home order. The state Supreme Court could decide as soon as this week whether to take that case.
In a further sign of fracturing opinions on how to respond to the pandemic, Hartford Mayor Tim Michalak released a plan Monday to reopen his community.
His plan would allow Hartford bars, restaurants and coffee shops to resume dine-in service starting May 11 — two weeks before the state’s stay-at-home order expires — with seating guidelines that keep people at least 6 feet apart. It will also allow barbers, hair salons, nail salons and tattoo parlors to reopen provided barbers and stylists wear protective equipment.
Hartford’s plan became public three days after more than 1,000 protesters gathered on the Capitol grounds to demand the reopening of the state. As of Monday, the virus had killed 281 people in Wisconsin and sickened more than 6,000.
While some pushed for reopening the state quickly, others warned it could be a long time before life in Wisconsin returns to normal.
“We’re going to probably all need to be used to social distancing for the next 12 to 18 months. Until hopefully we have an effective vaccine, it’s likely we’re going to be living with COVID-19,” said John Raymond, the CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, during an online briefing for the Greater Milwaukee Committee.
Evers emphasized the risks of reopening the state’s economy too soon during the same presentation.
“The absolute worst thing we can do is resume operations without the appropriate groundwork and then experience another round of infections and illnesses — illnesses that could potentially be worse than this one,” he said.
New state dashboard
The state’s new dashboard shows day-by-day information about how many people have exhibited symptoms and the percentage of tests that have been positive. But it doesn’t yet include hospital data that will be necessary to measure whether the state is ready to allow businesses to return to normal operations.
Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a call with reporters that she is working with hospitals and hopes to have that information included in the dashboard as soon as possible. She did not provide a specific timeline.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association, which maintains its own dashboard, did not say what information it thinks the state should be taking into account as it weighs when to reopen the state.
Under Evers’ plan, the state could begin to reopen when certain conditions are met. Over 14 days, the state must have fewer new diagnoses of coronavirus, fewer new reports of flu-like symptoms and a lower percentage of positive coronavirus tests.
In addition, hospitals must be able to treat all coronavirus patients without using “crisis care,” the state must be able to conduct 85,000 tests a week and the state must have a greatly expanded ability to do contact tracing, which involves identifying people who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive.
That doesn’t mean there must be improvements every day for 14 days, officials said Monday, but rather that there must be a positive trend over that period.
“The goal there is to smooth out the bumps in the data using the trend, using regression, to help us see the data in a way that isn’t as sensitive to fluctuations in the daily ups and downs,” Palm said.
Palm and Evers offered no assurances about when a reopening might happen. Evers’ original stay-at-home order was to expire last week, but Evers extended it until May 26. Orders in some other states are expiring before then.
“We’re not out of the clear just yet on safer at home,” Evers said during the call with reporters.
Some other governors, like Evers, have taken criticism for not doing more to reopen their states. But Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp found himself getting attacked — including by President Donald Trump — last week when he took steps to lift limits in his state.
Wisconsin Republicans have said Evers’ plans go too far and will batter the state’s economy. But those same critics have not offered their own plan for when they would reopen the state.
“We may all be in this together, but we don’t need to cripple all of us for the pandemic located in a few counties,” said a statement from GOP state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine. “If we continue with our current strategy much further, Wisconsin won’t be
devastated by the virus, it will be utterly demolished by Governor Evers’ response to it.”
Evers said for now he does not want to open parts of the state with low infection rates sooner than the rest of the state, as Wanggaard suggested.
“An outbreak in a rural area where access to health care is already limited and health care resources are already scarce could have the potential to severely overwhelm local governments and local health care workers,” Evers said. “We don’t want that to happen.”
Evers and his team have said their plans are based on the guidelines set by the Trump administration.
Republicans last week asked the state Supreme Court to block Evers’ stay-at-home order and require him to work with lawmakers on rules that would guide the state’s response to the outbreak.
Evers is to file a response to the lawsuit Tuesday and the justices will have a chance to decide soon after that whether to accept the case. If they take it, they could rule quickly on whether to keep the stay-at-home order in place. If they don’t accept it, Republican lawmakers could refile their lawsuit with a lower court.
Conservatives control the court 5-2, but Evers said he was optimistic about his chances.
“We have the facts on our side, we have the law on our side and we have lots of opportunity to share with the court where this type of action has taken place,” Evers said. “Given that we have all those things on our side, I believe the court will see the wisdom in our position.”
Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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