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Evers Releases Plan To Reopen Wisconsin Economy

Maayan Silver
Amilinda, a restaurant in downtown Milwaukee, is still open but just for takeout during the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers announced his phased plan to reopen the state's economy.

Gov. Tony Evers unveiled Monday his plan to reopen Wisconsin if certain public health conditions are met. He's calling it the Badger Bounce Back plan.

The Democrat originally set the date to reopen for late April, but last week he extended the safer-at-home order to May 26. Since then opponents have objected that it puts the state in an economic stranglehold.

While defending his decision Monday, Evers unveiled his plan to reopen the state gradually. Evers says the conditions are based in large part on procedures from Republican President Donald Trump.

“The metrics we're using are based in large part on the president's guidelines for opening up America. Again, that was issued by the White House on April 16, 2020. Right now, Wisconsin does not meet the criteria the White House established to start reopening our state," Evers said during a Monday news briefing.

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Evers says there needs to be a 14-day decline of COVID-19 symptoms reported and a 14-day decline of positive tests as a percent of total tests. That means the numbers must go down each day.

He says hospitals need to be able to treat all patients and have enough personal protective equipment and robust testing for health care workers. To get there, Evers says the state needs to increase lab capacity, boost contact tracing capacity by an additional 1,000 people, and step-up support for isolation and quarantine. And then bump up testing.

"Everyone who needs a test should get a test. And we're setting a goal of 85,000 tests per week — about 12,000 tests per day," he says.

Evers says it’s been a team effort among a number of labs to increase testing in Wisconsin, and the state will be receiving more than 250,000 additional test collection supplies in the coming weeks.

Some people pushing for the economy to reopen sooner argue that infection rates vary around the state — and say stay-at-home rules should too. Evers says he understands those arguments but that many people with the illness don’t have symptoms.

"And so to say that there's none in certain counties would just not be accurate," Evers says. "The second thing that comes into play here is that smaller counties that have smaller numbers, frankly, also have the smallest number of resources available to take care of surge of any sort."

Third, he says it’s an older population that’s more at risk.

Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm adds that over the past two weeks there have been between 150 and 190 new cases per day statewide, which is not the declining trend needed to start to reopen. Once the state has a 14-day declining trend, Palm says reopening will come in phases. 

“Phase one will make it possible for restaurants to open while implementing physical distancing for people to gather in groups of up to 10, and for children to return to child care. Phase two will turn the dial further with gatherings up to 50 and the opening of bars with physical distancing. Our ultimate goal is to continue to work together with all of you to reopen as widely as possible, as soon as is safely possible," she said Monday during a news briefing.

Republican state lawmakers are planning to sue over the extension of Evers’ safer-at-home order and business closures. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a statement after Evers released his plan. They argue it doesn't just follow federal guidelines but expands them. 

They say Evers is creating roadblocks by adding 1,000 new contact tracers when positive cases aren’t significantly increasing and by ramping up testing when the state is currently using around 20% of its testing capacity. In addition, some local sheriffs say they won’t enforce the extension order because it violates constitutional rights.

There have been protests in Brookfield and Madison — with another scheduled for Friday at the state capitol. 

“I get it that people are frustrated," says Evers. "But believe me, the vast, vast, vast, vast — I’ll say it one more time — vast majority of the people of Wisconsin understand how important it is to be safer at home, how important it is that we have metrics we now have and get them to a point where we can move on and reopen this economy."

Evers says residents have the right to protest. But he implores them to respect guidelines for social distancing because he says it’s saving lives. 

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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