Wisconsin meeting 2 of 6 criteria for state to reopen.
Gov. Tony Evers declares a public health emergency due to the coronavirus on March 12, 2020. (Photo © Andy Manis)

A long way to go, but progress is made.

A day after the state Department of Health Services launched a new web tracker for Gov. Tony Evers’ reopening plan, two of six criteria have been met as the state is set to surpass 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

After a two-week downward trend in both reported flu-like illnesses and coronavirus cases in health care workers, the state is primed for the next four criteria: a two-week downward trend in positive coronavirus cases, a two-week downward trend in “COVID-like” cases, 95 percent of hospitals reporting they can treat all patients without crisis care, and 95 percent of hospitals arranging testing for all symptomatic staff.

The state has neither a two-week downward trend in positive cases, nor a two-week downward trend in “COVID-like” cases. There is not yet enough data to determine either of the hospital-related criteria.

The progress illustrates how the state is in no shape to reopen currently under Evers’ order. Republicans are arguing at the state Supreme Court that Evers and DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm overstepped their authority when Palm extended the stay-home order through May 26. 

Various health officials and community leaders filed briefs in support of the extension.

The conservative-led court seems poised to overturn the order, leaving the state with no immediate replacement plan proposed by legislative Republicans, something Evers has frequently hammered Republicans for.

“The basic question to be answered is: What is their plan?” Evers said Monday, the day before oral arguments began.

Troy Streckenbach, county executive of Brown County, which has one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the nation due to meatpacking plant hotspots, said Wednesday that he wants county residents to “take Safer At Home to heart.”

If the order is struck down, Streckenbach said, he hopes Evers and the Legislature will quickly work together to implement a replacement plan in a “precautionary manner” to prevent unfettered community spread.

Confirmed cases in Wisconsin reached 8,901 on Wednesday, and deaths reached 362, according to DHS data. A week of rapid spikes — by as many as 460 new confirmed cases in one day — has been the result of both greatly increased testing and a growing amount of Wisconsinites shrugging off social distancing requirements. The state is on track to break 9,000 cases on Thursday.

Business interest groups have called for early reopening in various forms. On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce suggested the state begin reopening as soon as Monday. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest conservative business lobby, presented a plan — lauded by Republicans — that would essentially allow all businesses to open up under a regional approach. The WMC last week trotted out business leaders, but no public health experts, in support of the plan in a seven-hour meeting of the Assembly Committee on State Affairs.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes called a regional reopening approach “ridiculous in practice” in a meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus on the same day.

“It’s not like these places are walled off,” Barnes said. “You get on the road, we drive there, we can go there. So what will stop people who are potentially infected from going to parts of the state that are seeing lower rates of infection and lower rates of transmission?”

Nationally, a leaked White House model predicts up to 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day by June 1 as states begin to reopen. A widely consulted University of Washington model now predicts 135,000 American coronavirus deaths by Aug. 4; nearly 66,000 have already died, according to Johns Hopkins University.