Wisconsin lays out $1 billion plan to battle COVID-19

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Evers Administration is unveiling a billion-dollar statewide initiative to battle COVID-19 throughout the coming months. The program targets multiple facets in the fight to contain coronavirus, including testing and contact tracing, buying supplies and funding emergency operations, and offering resources to local governments.

“Our statewide approach to containing the spread of COVID-19 will continue with robust testing and contact tracing efforts in all corners of Wisconsin, resources that ensure our critical workers have the equipment they need to do their jobs safely, and direct investments in local communities and health providers,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement announcing the program.

The $1.17 billion plan will be paid for through the federal government’s $2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package.

The bulk of the funds, $445 million, is being set aside to brace the state for a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall. In addition to that second wave, the Evers Administration is concerned that the lifting of ‘Safer at Home’ restrictions will itself cause a surge of new cases. The money is earmarked for hospital systems and communities to handle any increase.

More than a quarter-billion dollars will be dedicated to getting people tested. According to the Department of Health Services, the state can currently run approximately 13,000 tests per day. However, the state has set a goal of running 85,000 tests per day. To reach that goal, the state is setting aside $260 million to make the tests available for free and still be able to collect them and ship them.

This is how the state plans to divide those funds:

  • COVID-19 test kits: Everyone who needs a test should receive a test. The state’s testing program will spend $202 million to provide COVID-19 test collection kits to Wisconsin hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, local public health departments, and others at no cost to ensure that everyone who needs a test receives a test.
  • Local preparedness grants: These grants will provide $30,000 in funding to 96 local and tribal public health departments (for a total of approximately $3 million) to update preparedness plans to ensure Wisconsin communities, schools and businesses are prepared to support testing efforts into the fall.
  • Local community and occupational testing pilots: These pilot programs will infuse $45 million in funding to local public health departments, occupational health providers, home health agencies, and health systems to conduct COVID19 testing in congregate, community and occupational settings. This program will incentivize testing by providing eligible providers $35 per COVID-19 test administered to a Wisconsin resident and will run through August 31, 2020.
  • Public health testing coordinators: The testing program will provide $10 million in funding to local and tribal public health departments to coordinate local testing efforts.

With the number of positive test results in the state still growing – and an increase in testing likely to turn up even more cases – health officials are looking to use $75 million of those funds to increase their contact tracing abilities. Fifty million dollars of that amount will be provided to the local and tribal public health departments to hire more staff.

Wisconsin officials also note they have already re-assigned more than 200 state officials so they can help make the calls needed to let people know they may have been exposed.

State officials also plan to spend $150 million buying personal protective equipment for first responders and health care providers, among others. Some of the PPE is expected to come from the national stockpile while the rest will come through public and private sector contracts. After obtaining the equipment, state officials intend to distribute it to health care facilities, first responders, and local governments. Another $40 million has been set aside specifically to purchase ventilators.