Evers, Republicans discuss regional reopening of Wisconsin

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 7:58 PM CDT
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Republican legislative leaders talked with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Monday about opening some parts of Wisconsin less affected by the coronavirus pandemic sooner than others.

Evers met with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders for the first time to talk about the virus response. The meeting came the day before the Wisconsin Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case brought by Republican legislative leaders seeking to block Evers’ “safer at home” order that is slated to run until May 26.

“The basic question to be answered is, what is their plan?” Evers said ahead of the meeting. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the court case or getting in front of the court case.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the lawmakers talked with Evers about the possibility of a regional approach to reopening the state. Vos didn’t say if Republicans offered a specific plan.

“It’s a safe and reasonable approach that I hope we can begin working on developing,” Vos said in a statement. “What’s needed for Wisconsin right now is a bipartisan reopening strategy that is safe, gradual and regional. We shouldn’t have a Republican plan or a governor’s plan, we need a Wisconsin plan that the entire state can get behind.”

Evers has loosened numerous restrictions in recent days. Republicans, along with the state chamber of commerce, have been pushing for a more rapid reopening, including easing restrictions more rapidly in areas not as affected by the virus.

Evers’ plan for a phased reopening Wisconsin, mirroring federal guidelines, relies on expanded testing; more contact tracing; increased personal protective equipment and a steady decline in cases.

Evers announced on Monday that every resident and worker in all 373 Wisconsin nursing homes will receive a free coronavirus test as part of a plan to expand testing to everyone who needs one — as many as 85,000 people a week.

Evers said state health officials started contacting nursing homes on Monday to coordinate supplies before testing more than 10,000 residents and staff each week in May.

Nursing homes nationwide have been hot spots for outbreaks of COVID-19. As of last Wednesday, there were 93 public health investigations in long-term care facilities in Wisconsin, and 25 facilities had more than five confirmed cases, the state health department said.

Other steps Evers announced to expand testing include using the National Guard and local health agencies to test workers and families associated with outbreaks at businesses; increasing from 10 to 25 the number of National Guard units to help set up testing sites to respond to outbreaks; and increasing free drive-thru testing sites at communities statewide.

As of Monday, more than 8,200 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 340 people died, according to the state Department of Health Services. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher, though, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

Evers’ reopening plan calls for a loosening of restrictions after a 14-day downward trend in positive cases as a percentage of total tests. There has been no clear trend over the past seven days. Positive cases were 9.9% of all tests on Monday, which was down from 11.1% the day before.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Also on Monday, two residents of Waukesha County, a Republican stronghold, filed a new lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to block Evers’ order. They argue the order’s travel restrictions, nine-person limit on religious gatherings and ban on public or private gatherings infringe on religious freedom and political speech.

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