Evers Spending Hundreds of Millions Preparing for Another Predicted Surge

MacIver News Service | May 19, 2020

With the State of Wisconsin getting $1.9 billion from the federal government through the CARES Act, Gov. Evers has a plan for how he wants to spend most of it.

Evers announced on Tuesday, that about $1.17 billion of the funding will go towards testing, contact tracing, PPE, emergency operations, and local aid. That’s consistent with what legislative Republicans identified as top priorities two months ago.

Shortly after the CARES Act was passed in March, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated, “These dollars must be used to help acquire ventilators and more personal protection equipment as well as help public health departments and health care providers all over the state.”

However, the CARES Act does not give the state legislature any oversight authority for the funds. Gov. Evers can basically spend it however he wants.

After the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s lockdown orders as “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable,” testing and contact tracing became Evers’ main focus.

His “Badger Bounce Back” plan called for collecting and processing 85,000 tests a week. Evers is maintaining that goal, and with $260 million of the federal funds, he plans to make those tests free. Local governments will get $10 million for “testing coordinators,” and another $45 million for testing pilot programs that will pay providers a $35 incentive for every test they conduct. The state has already deployed 25 field testing teams from the National Guard that have been at work for weeks.

Privacy Concerns With Contact Tracing

The Department of Health Services hired 120 contact tracers over the first few weeks of the state’s public health emergency. Evers wanted another $17 million in state funds to hire 64 more full-time employees to conduct contact tracing, but the legislature told him to use the federal funds instead.

Since then, he reassigned another 200 current state employees to conduct contact tracing phone calls. Additionally, earlier this month, DHS sent interview applications to another 415 candidates. DHS says once the state reaches its goal of 85,000 new tests a week, it estimates it will need to contact 42,500 people every week for contact tracing, according to WKOW-TV. However, that’s if it only traces people who test positive. WKOW-TV also reports that DHS is no longer just contact tracing people who test positive for COVID-19. It’s tracing everyone who gets a test.

“This means we contact everyone who has a positive test and in fact, we are moving to contact everyone who has a test,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said according to WKOW-TV.

Evers is now going to send $50 million from the CARES Act funds to local governments for them to hire new government employees to conduct contract tracing. Some local governments already hired contact tracers on their own weeks ago.

In fact, as of a month ago, DHS had trained 250 contact tracers for local health departments. Around that time, Waukesha had 30 contact tracers, according to WDJT-TV. Dane County had 36 staff assigned to contact tracing, not all new hires, according to WKOW-TV. The City of Milwaukee had 19 staffers reassigned to contact tracing, according to the Journal Sentinel.

It’s unclear where all these contact tracing records will end up, but privacy concerns abound. The US Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the CCID collect contact tracing records and store them in a national database. It shares those records with the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement, and even the World Health Organization.

The Evers Administration has not publicly addressed this issue. However, the Badger Bounce Back plan required implementing “technology solutions to ensure everyone who is infected or exposed will safely isolate or quarantine.” As MacIver Institute president Brett Healy pointed out, “it sounds eerie and Orwellian. Are we talking about ankle bracelets to ensure those infected stay in their home or in a certain room? Or drones that hover 24/7 over your house or apartment and monitor your every move?”

Local and tribal health departments $30,000 grants from the federal funding. That will most likely include Brown County, which so far has not received any additional funding despite its recent outbreak, according to lawmakers representing the area.

More Surplus Ventilators

The Evers Administration will spend $150 million on PPE and $40 million on 1,542 ventilators. Wisconsin already has 1,253 ventilators, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. And according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Wisconsin’s need for ventilators peaked on Apr. 13th, when 97 ventilators were in use throughout the entire state. As of May 19th, it’s estimated 72 are in use.

The Evers Administration has been preparing for an impeding surge from day one that’s never happened. All its projections and predictions have been wrong so far. According to IHME, Wisconsin reached its peak number of daily infections back on Mar. 27th, when it was estimated at 1,287 unconfirmed cases. Wisconsin daily deaths topped out at 12 on Apr. 16th. On May 19th, Wisconsin had 8 deaths. Still, the Evers Administration has no intention of scaling its efforts back at all.

More Funding For Empty Hospitals

According to Evers’ announcement on Tuesday, the state will be sending $445 million to “Wisconsin hospital systems and communities” to help them prepare for the surge of new COVID-19 patients, Evers is sure will happen now that his lockdown order has been lifted. It is unknown what hospitals need that money for since they have never come close to reaching their peak capacity throughout this public health emergency. Many were so underwhelmed, they had to furlough a good portion of their staffs.

Right now, the $10 million overflow facility the state built at State Fair Park remains empty. The Evers Administration plans to keep it open to deal with that anticipated surge.

On Monday, Evers announced he was using $75 million from the CAREA Act to help small businesses. He has not yet announced plans for the remaining $700 million of federal funds.

Breakdown of the ~$1.17 Billion:

$260 million:      Testing

$75 million:         Contact Tracing (including new local employees)

$3 million:           Local Grants

$45 million:         Local testing programs

$10 million:         Local Testing Coordinators

$150 million:      PPE

$40 million:         Ventilators

$445 million:      Hospital Assistance

$200 million:      Emergency Operations