Retired nurses Ann Louise Tetreault, left, and Tracy Suprise hold up a sign in front of the state Capitol Thursday to protest WMC and Republican lawmakers attempting to reopen Wisconsin too quickly. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Retired nurses Ann Louise Tetreault, left, and Tracy Suprise hold up a sign in front of the state Capitol Thursday to protest WMC and Republican lawmakers attempting to reopen Wisconsin too quickly. (Photo © Andy Manis)

State’s powerful business lobby pushing to reopen rural areas sooner than metropolitan locations such as Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay

On a day when Wisconsin once again saw its biggest single-day jump in COVID-19 cases, business interests told a legislative committee inside the state Capitol about their desire to move faster to reopen stores, restaurants and factories. Outside the Capitol building, retired nurses described how moving too quickly to lift restrictions is likely to endanger many more people.

Resuming business operations as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Wisconsin is likely to prompt a surge of infections of the contagious illness as workers and customers come together, retired nurses Ann Louise Tetreault and Tracy Suprise said at a news conference outside the Capitol building.

The former nurses, both of whom worked for UW Health Hospital and Clinics in Madison, made their comments as the Assembly Committee on State Affairs heard from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and business owners urging the reopening of businesses as soon as possible. 

Tetreault and Suprise said they are sympathetic to the struggles companies and unemployed workers face during the coronavirus pandemic. But reopening businesses before the number of COVID-19 cases decreases could prompt a surge of the illness and a further extension of stay-at-home measures, they said.

“The truth is the safer-at-home order and social distancing have saved countless lives and helped Wisconsin to flatten the curve and control the spread of this deadly virus,” Tetreault and Suprise said in a joint statement.

“If we move to allow people to return too quickly to public spaces, make no mistake: we will risk the lives of our most vulnerable and the very people we’ve been calling heroes.”

The retired nurses said Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to reopen businesses and other operations in the state, based on a set of conditions that includes a decrease in reported COVID-19 cases, is a sensible path to allow companies to restart while protecting public health.

That plan, they said, represents a “coordinated and science-based recovery as soon as we have sufficient testing and infrastructure in place.”

No decrease in COVID-19 cases appears to be on the horizon in Wisconsin. The 334 new positive cases reported in Thursday’s daily statistics from the Department of Health Services is the largest day-to-day increase since the outbreak began.

While it reflects an increase in testing at workplaces and other locations, it also shows the coronavirus continues to spread. In all, there have been 6,854 COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin.

Of those, 1,512 have required hospitalization, an increase of 23 new patients since Wednesday. And the loss of 8 people in the past 24 hours has brought the COVID-19 death toll in Wisconsin to 316.

Despite the ongoing cases and casualties, business owners speaking during the Assembly committee meeting said Evers’ plan is too cautious and will result in too many companies going bankrupt if restrictions aren’t lifted soon. 

One-third of Wisconsin businesses are unlikely to reopen if the governor’s safer-at-home plan isn’t lifted before its May 26 end date, said Scott Manley, WMC executive vice president of government relations.

“The economic impact of shutting down our economy, and keeping it shut down, is devastating,” Manley told the committee. 

WMC has pushed to allow different portions of the state with fewer cases of COVID-19 to reopen earlier than metropolitan locations such as Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay more directly impacted by the virus. Troy Berg, CEO of Dane Manufacturing, a metal fabrication company near Madison, backs that plan. 

“I don’t understand the governor’s one-size-fits-all approach to this situation,” Berg said.    

Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 21 opposing Evers’ extension of his Safer at Home order. On Wednesday nearly 70 organizations filed briefs with the court backing Evers’ action. But the court maintains a conservative majority. 

Tetreault and Suprise criticized the lawsuit, saying it endangers public safety.

“For our Republian legislators to act so recklessly, in such a negligent way, it is unconscionable,” they said.  

Evers has said maintaining one statewide approach regarding the lifting of stay-at-home measures is more manageable than a segmented, regional effort and helps prevent the spread of the virus. 

“The Safer at Home plan is helping us flatten the (COVID-19) curve,” he said, “and we need to continue to have people stay home until we can bring that number down.”

Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, D-Milwaukee, said she backs Evers’ order, in part because many counties with low confirmed COVID-19 cases likely have more people infected with the illness, but those cases aren’t known about because of a lack of testing for the virus throughout the state.

People can be carriers of COVID-19 and not show symptoms, she said, and without adequate testing “we don’t really know how many people out there have this virus,” she said.