Outagamie County Official: The GOP Needs To Step Up And Give Us a Pandemic Plan — Now
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson (behind podium) welcomes Gov. Tony Evers to a bill signing ceremony on Feb. 22, 2020. (Outagamie County Executive Facebook page photo)

Commentary from Tom Nelson on the benefits of public health policy.

The other day I was driving to the mall despite my misgivings; you shouldn’t go out any more than you must in a pandemic. But my four year old son had to have a talking dinosaur. I buckled under the pressure, buckled up and hit the road.

On the drive, I couldn’t help but notice cars and trucks racing past me, not a few drivers cut me off. Fortunately, most motorists obeyed the speed limit and were considerate of their fellow travelers.

That got me thinking. At one time there were no speed limits and every lane was a fast lane. How did we get by then?

When vehicle crashes began piling up and their stories began dominating the evening news (“If it bleeds, it leads”) lawmakers took action, passing speed limit laws and seat belt restrictions. 

At first the new laws were unpopular, though after a few tickets and convincing studies that the laws saved lives, we got into the habit of clicking belts and checking speeds. 

Speed limits and seat belt requirements are good laws even though they are a hassle and test our patience. Same is true with Safer-at-Home orders. 

The Governor’s Safer-at-Home directive was sensible. The idea was to separate us from the virus. The law that empowered the Department of Health Secretary to enact safeguards was an old one which had withstood numerous legal challenges.

Until now.

Last month, the GOP legislature sued the DHS Secretary to have a hand in writing its own Safer-at-Home orders or “rules” as they would have it. Not surprisingly the conservative Supreme Court obliged and struck down the DHS’s measures. 

With no DHS order or GOP plan in place, my colleagues and I scrambled to fill the vacuum.  We forged a six-county coalition representing 650,000 souls to implement a regional Safer at Home mandate. The effort dissolved in 24 hours proving just how difficult it is to fight a global pandemic at the local level. 

It is long past time for a Republican plan – and that does not mean punting to the counties and cities. Our attempt to piece together an order failed and we took the fall. GOP legislators be warned: next time it will be on you. And if things go wrong, you’ll have more than a screaming four-year-old to deal with. 

Tom Nelson is the Outagamie County Executive and a former State Representative