Wisconsin Governor outlines plan to reopen state
Screen image courtesy of WisconsinEye

Requires meeting benchmarks for cases to decrease. But the state is still seeing an increase as the death toll reaches 230.

With business leaders across the state eager to reopen sooner than May 26, Gov. Tony Evers introduced a plan Monday that outlines when the state will start easing restrictions that have limited the spread of coronavirus in Wisconsin.

Called the Badger Bounce Back program, the plan would allow work and social activities to somewhat return to normal once cases of coronavirus and flu-like symptoms decline for 14 consecutive days. 

“I am jazzed and hopeful about this plan,” Evers told reporters Monday. 

Rather than “flip a switch” and bring back gatherings of people that would likely ignite a new wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Evers’ plan is based on the Trump administration’s “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.” 

It includes a continued increase in testing and acquiring adequate supplies for the health care community, but it also includes first steps to reopen businesses.

Despite the similarities to President Trump’s guidelines, Evers’ plan found little love from Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers. 

“Instead of listening to the resounding outcry from the people of the state, Gov. Evers is now making it harder to reopen Wisconsin,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “He claims to be following the CDC guidelines, but instead is expanding on them, saying we need to hire 1,000 new contract tracers when positive cases aren’t significantly increasing. The governor also wants to postpone reopening until we increase testing when we are currently using only around 20% of our testing capacity. These are not criteria for reopening, they’re roadblocks.”

Positive cases continue increasing in Wisconsin with 153 new cases since Sunday. Ten more lives were claimed in Wisconsin on Sunday by the outbreak bringing the death toll to 230. The state now has about 4,500 cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,200 have required hospital care. 

As health officials and Evers explained, additional contact tracers are necessary to contain potential upticks, such as the outbreak of cases at three Brown County meat processing plants over the weekend. Wisconsin had to ask for help from the Centers for Disease Control to provide contract tracing to contain that outbreak, according to Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the state Department of Health Services. 

Phase one of the Badger Bounce Back program would allow schools and restaurants to reopen with some restrictions and would limit gathering to 10 people or less.

The second phase would allow gatherings up to 50 people, restaurants to operate as usual, and bars and other non-essential businesses to open with social distancing guidelines.

The third and final phase would allow all businesses to return to normal and gatherings would again have no size limits.

Evers and Palm stressed how partnerships with Exact Sciences, Epic and Promega are allowing the state to continue to ramp up its testing capabilities. The goal is for 12,000 tests to be conducted daily. This means doctors at the clinic level need to start testing people who have mild symptoms. 

The goal, Palm said, is for 85,000 tests to be processed per week. 

“Everyone with symptoms should be able to get a test,” she said. “Providers all around the state need to understand this.”

On Thursday, Palm, at the request of Evers, extended the stay-at-home order until May 26. Subsequently, Republican lawmakers threatened to have her fired by refusing to confirm her nomination. They also threatened a lawsuit to have the extension struck down. 

On Monday, the Tavern League of Wisconsin called on Evers to reopen bars and restaurants by May 1. 

“We are aware of different people asking for different things. May 1 would be a tough row to hoe,” said Evers. “We are following the White House guidelines and we aren’t even to phase one or phase two yet.”

As for whether the state could meet the metrics outlined in the Badgert Bounce Back plan prior to May 26, Evers said it would require participation by everyone across the state. 

“I believe if we go at this 24/7 we have a shot,” he said. “I am very hopeful we can get there.”