On April 21, the state’s Republican leaders asked the state’s Republican-dominated Supreme Court to halt an order from Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to extend the COVID-19 shutdown until May 26.
Hours later Evers announced plans to ramp up COVID-19 testing in order to meet White House and CDC criteria for lifting the state’s quarantine.
This partisan scenario, with Republicans pushing to re-open the state’s economy while Democrats stress keeping it closed in the interest of public health, becomes more bitter every day. COVID-19 politics are playing out in other states as well, particularly in the South.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald and business groups that back Republicans’ campaigns have complained that even the current date of April 26 already has done more damage to businesses in the state than is necessary.
In papers filed in court, Wisconsin Republicans downplayed the danger and impact of COVID-19. Vos and Fitzgerald issued a joint statement insisting that Wisconsin “is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections.”
That isn’t true. The overall number of cases continues to rise. On April 22 the state experienced its largest one-day report of new cases since the breakout began.
At 3 p.m. on April 22, a total of 4,862 cases had been reported in the state and 248 people have died. Both numbers continue to climb daily.
An incomplete story
If the state does re-open prematurely, allowing the trajectory of the coronavirus in Wisconsin to climb faster and higher, the state’s economy will take a much more devastating blow than it would by remaining closed until it’s under control.
Current numbers are undoubtedly mitigated by the “Safer at Home” orders that Evers issued on March 24. Lifting those orders will create a far more favorable environment for the virus to spread.
Meanwhile, the state is not even close to conforming with metrics issued by the White House and the CDC for re-opening. There must be a 14-day decline in the number of recorded cases or people who test positive before that can happen.
Testing, contact tracing and isolating people who are infected or exposed are the cornerstones of ending an outbreak. The success of that strategy was proven in China and South Korea.
Until April 21, the state had only eight lab partners to assist in testing for COVID-19. But Evers announced the state is vastly increasing its testing capability through the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, gaining partnerships with a total of 36 labs.
Testing allows epidemiologists to get a clearer picture of where the virus is in Wisconsin, so medical professionals can concentrate their efforts on emerging hot spots.
Along with testing, the state plans to boost its contact-tracing efforts and to reach out to the contacts of newly identified cases within 48 hours, by hiring additional 1,000 workers.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to add a graph of Wisconsin COVID-19 cases, along with breaking news that the state just experienced its largest one-day rise in cases since the pandemic began here.