Open The Whole State – Target Response To Vulnerable Populations and Problematic Situations
The One-Size-Fits-All Approach Is Not Needed and Is Endangering Everyone’s Wellness
The time to reopen Wisconsin is now.
Every day that we wait, every week that Gov. Evers prevents our friends, our neighbors and our families from going to work, every month that goes by without a full and immediate reopening of Wisconsin, unthinkable damage is being inflicted upon our economy that will forever change the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Wisconsinites. If Gov. Evers waits until the fall as he and other members of his Administration have suggested, there will not be a Wisconsin to reopen.
All along, the goal of the public health emergency declaration and the shelter-in-place restriction was to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to “prevent spikes in COVID-19 cases that could further strain our healthcare system and risk more lives.” We have accomplished these original goals in Wisconsin. Period. This cannot be debated. The only scientific debate left is how the models used by Gov. Evers to justify the shelter-in-place order were so far off and inaccurate.
Thankfully, the nightmare scenario of a tsunami surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths never took place in the dairy state. While any loss of life is tragic and all life must be treasured, our death total here is nowhere near places like New York City or Italy. Even in the midwest, Wisconsin has been one of the best at keeping people alive. The hardworking doctors, nurses and medical professionals deserve tremendous credit and our sincere thank you. COVID-19 has not been as deadly as was originally feared here in Wisconsin.
It’s Already Working In Wisconsin
We know that some have discussed a methodical and throttled reopening of Wisconsin, done in phases, based on a certain set of metrics and a “slow turning of the dial.” We believe, instead, that we should approach this challenge from a different perspective. We should not use the few problems that we have as a justification for a smothering and heavy-handed statewide ban. We should not use a one-size-fits-all decree that tries to anticipate everything that might go wrong based off of information from when we feared the world would be overrun. Instead, let’s use the demonstrated success that is already happening right here in Wisconsin as the reason to open all of Wisconsin.
Let’s follow the lead of the vast majority of Wisconsin businesses, those lucky enough to be deemed “essential” to be allowed to stay open by the benevolent government, that have figured out a way to operate safely. Let’s allow everyone to open and replicate what has worked for the thousands of businesses that continued to provide vital services and products for their customers and the community. These businesses have put into place new procedures and guidelines that have kept their workers healthy and controlled the spread of the disease. These businesses have taken the necessary steps so they can continue serving their customers and keep their employees working in their time of need. Business owners want and need to deal with COVID-19 properly and effectively. Their livelihood, and the futures of all that rely on them for a job, depends on their ability to show their customers and the public it is safe to frequent their establishment and conduct business again.
If we fully reopen the state and the economy, government can shift its focus and resources to swiftly targeting problems and guarding vulnerable populations. Rather than spending so much time and effort dictating what cannot be done, determining which businesses are essential or arbitrarily enforcing who can be outside or walking in a park, state government should train their efforts on problem areas and at-risk populations. We know from data and the experience of other states that the virus is a problem for the elderly and those who suffer from serious, underlying health conditions. Government should spend its time here. Government should encourage the COVID-positive to isolate, let the elderly know that they need to continue to take precautions and protect themselves, make sure that our schools properly sanitize their facilities and ask the public to use basic, reasonable precautions when we attend a Little League game or a festival this summer. Let’s return government to its proper role so our citizens can return to their pursuit of life and happiness. The businesses that have remained open have already proven that it can be done safely and that it is already working in Wisconsin.
We Have Flattened The Curve
As of May 6th, almost 88,000 Wisconsinites have tested NEGATIVE for the COVID-19 virus and only 8,900 have tested positive. Unfortunately, we have lost 400 Wisconsinites to the disease. The number of COVID-19 positive individuals who have required hospitalization has been remarkably consistent and relatively low. The curve has been manageable and generally flat for some time. Our daily COVID+ hospitalization number has been between 300 to 360 patients statewide since April 17. According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association data center, the COVID-19 seven-day admissions trend is down 52 over the last seven days. Down 52. And of those who test positive, approximately 5% require intensive care, less than 450 individuals total statewide, have required intensive care treatment since the start of the crisis. The seven-day ICU patient trend is down 14 and as of May 6th, there are only 107 COVID+ patients who require intensive care in the entire state. The entire state. That is reason to celebrate.
While Gov. Evers has focused on the number tests administered and the percentage of tests that come back positive, the daily statewide hospitalization number is more important. That number, those who require hospitalization, goes directly to the original goal of making sure our hospitals and our health care system were not overwhelmed. With 133 hospitals across the state, 11,000 hospital beds and over 1,400 ICU beds, our health care system has not been overwhelmed and, truthfully, has not been strained by COVID-19. We have managed the curve and it has been relatively flat for some time.
We must point out that despite recent increases in testing capacity, which of course has led to uptick in the number of diagnosed COVID+ cases, the number of those who have tested positive and require hospitalization has remained generally constant. This is an important point that has not received the notice it deserves from the media and the public discussion it needs. Clearly, the original fear that all of us would become infected with the virus and that anyone who did become infected would require hospitalization and need to be hooked up to a ventilator, has not come true. It is remarkable that the daily number of hospitalized has been so consistent and so consistently manageable for so long. It also proves that we can and we should reopen Wisconsin now.
Even with the predictable uptick in positive diagnoses and the increase in those needing hospitalization that will result from lifting the shelter-in-place order, our health care system stands ready to respond and well-positioned to deal with the case load.
Another sign that points to our health care system managing the outbreak is the added hospitalization capacity that Governor Evers sought to quickly build, yet sits idle. The “COVID-19 Alternate Care Facility” at State Fair Park opened on April 21 to great fanfare, judged by the media that this was a sign how serious the COVID-19 outbreak was and how desperate the situation was going to get in Milwaukee. The temporary hospital, with over 500 beds and the ability to house more than 700 patients, took in no patients the first week it opened. None.
The second Alternate Care Facility at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison was never built because the spread has been controlled. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said at the time that building a second temporary hospital proves that “this is serious, it’s not something that’s just happening in New York City, or Detroit, or Louisiana. The COVID-19 crisis is real and it’s everywhere.” As we have been saying for some time, Wisconsin is not New York City and the fact that neither of the temporary hospitals in Milwaukee or Madison have been utilized proves our point.
Large sections of our state are experiencing only a handful of COVID-19 cases, and yet, the entire state is in lockdown. Half of Wisconsin’s counties have reported less than 15 cases total and more than a dozen of counties have gone over two weeks since they last reported a new case. Around 65 of the 72 counties in this state are reporting only a handful of new diagnosed cases each day.
For any rational person or elected official, the data clearly show that Wisconsin has controlled the spread of the virus and prevented our hospitals and our health care system from being overwhelmed.
The Coming Tsunami
Human Suffering From Delayed Health Care, Prolonged Shutdown and Economic Ruin
Even though Wisconsin has thankfully experienced a slow spread of COVID-19, the Evers Administration seems intent on keeping the “Safer at Home” order in place at least until May 26th. There are public indications that some in the Administration would like to keep the state under lockdown for a much longer period beyond that. Waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing Wisconsinites to fully reopen the economy means that we will be under some sort of lock down or restriction until at least 2021. As we have demonstrated above, the science does not support this.
What the Evers Administration has failed to adequately consider, some would charge fail to consider at all, is the damage our COVID-19 response is doing to the vast majority of our citizens, the over 5 million Wisconsinites who will never need hospital care. What about the 5 million plus who have had their lives turned upside down in the effort to combat the disease? What about those who have lost their job, lost their house because they lost their job, lost their business, those who have been forced to put off health care, those who have been forced to put off their future? What about their suffering? Again, while the loss of life to COVID-19 is tragic, the loss of jobs and loss of economic security has already had a much greater impact on the lives of our families than COVID-19 itself. What is clear is that the coming suffering and damage from the lockdown will be severe and the likes of which we have not experienced in decades. It is clear that if we do not reopen Wisconsin now and fully reopen the economy, it will be too late and it will take years for the people of Wisconsin to recover.
As we begin May, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites are out of work and countless small businesses have been forced to close with many more likely to suffer a similar fate soon. Just last week, 3 million more Americans applied for unemployment, raising the total number of layoffs since the start of the COVID-19 virus to 33 million. Nationally, a record 20 million jobs were lost in April and the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%. The tsunami that will have a more devastating impact than the disease is starting and we are only in the beginning stages of the economic chaos and the widespread human suffering that it will cause. If we reopen Wisconsin now, we have a chance at rebounding quickly and making this pain temporary.
In Wisconsin, a half million of our friends and neighbors have applied for unemployment since this began. Even as shocking as the half a million figure is, it is likely not the true number of those seeking help because the state’s application system has buckled. One individual reported to a local media outlet that he tried to call unsuccessfully over 700 times to apply for benefits in a three-hour span. The economic devastation has been so widespread, the application system at DWD has been overwhelmed and unresponsive to the needs of the many trying to apply for unemployment. Think about that for a second. The damage to our economy has been so severe and widespread that the system designed to process the applications of those needing help could not handle the load. That fact alone should convince Gov. Evers that we need to reopen Wisconsin and get people back to work.
While the widespread economic devastation from the lockdown has been painfully difficult to watch, the fact that the health care system furloughed so many workers when the surge never materialized is infuriating. This is the very same health care system that decided, with guidance from the federal government we grant you, to cancel elected surgeries, delay non-critical procedures and put off routine and regular health care to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 cases. So, instead of keeping these highly valuable medical professionals working to keep the greater, non-infected population cared for (the 5 million+) the health system administrators decided it was better to send them to the unemployment line.
Another factor overlooked is the cost to all of us and our state resulting from the postponement of routine health care. There will be individuals who could not schedule an appointment or a needed procedure, because of the fear of the surge, that will become ill, or worse, as a result of the fact that they were denied health care. A distant relative who has a family history of breast cancer and is considered high risk had to fight to get her mammogram scheduled recently. The facility was nearly empty when she went to her appointment. How many other Wisconsinites have given up trying to schedule appointments because they were told “not now”?
This decision has cost the hospitals a lot of money and it will end up costing taxpayers a lot of money as well. On March 17, when Wisconsin had a total of 72 cases of coronavirus and still 0 deaths, healthcare systems across the state announced they were cancelling elective procedures.
UW Hospital has treated on an in-patient basis between 5 to 20 COVID-19 patients for weeks now, a much smaller number than what many predicted at the start of the emergency. Even though UW Hospital, a 500 bed facility, has hosted only a handful of COVID-19 patients, the hospital stopped elective surgeries and other types of non-critical care. According to the CEO of UW Health, of which UW Hospital is the cornerstone hospital, it is losing $100 million a month.
The Marshfield Clinic system, based in Wood County, announced it was furloughing employees on April 8th. The Marshfield Clinic hospital in Beaver Dam did not have a COVID-19 positive patient until a week AFTER the furlough announcement. In mid-April, there were a total of 66 cases in the seven counties home to Marshfield Clinic hospitals. Just 66, and yet they were furloughing employees.
Where do you think UW Health, Marshfield Clinic and every other health care systems that racked up tremendous losses, thanks in large part to the decision to continue to postpone regular heath care, is going to turn to be made whole? That’s right, you, the taxpayer. That taxpayer-funded bailout money will be on top of the money taxpayers shelled out to pay for the furloughed workers unemployment benefits. It’s maddening.
According to DWD, if the state continues on our current unemployment weekly trend of over 300,000 claims, the Unemployment Insurance fund will be out of money by this October. Even if claims slow down, the fund will be exhausted by the end of the year. We need to reopen now and let these Wisconsinites go back to work.
The outlook for businesses, the actual employers who we need to hire these 500,000 Wisconsinites, isn’t any better. As of mid-April, over 31,000 Wisconsin-owned businesses applied for temporary relief through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Why not reopen Wisconsin and let these 31,000 businesses provide for themselves, rather than rely on a stop-gap handout from the taxpayer?
The economic loss that Wisconsin citizens will experience from the lockdown will also result in additional suffering and other bad health outcomes. Just a few days ago, Milwaukee County reported that it is experienced a dramatic increase in EMS calls for drug overdoses (54% increase) and suicide attempts (80% increase) during the months of March and April. If we do not reopen now, those numbers will continue to skyrocket all over the state as the full brunt of the economic devastation takes hold.
The Time Is Now
This widespread suffering is the most compelling reason Gov. Evers should reopen Wisconsin. We should reopen everything right now because it is the moral thing to do. It is the right thing to do for the entire state and all Wisconsinites. We must not allow the panic and fear over COVID-19 to cloud our thinking and our decision making. It makes no sense to inflict suffering and economic damage on millions of Wisconsinites in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease to ten or twenty thousand Wisconsinites. While all of the attention has been focused on the approximate 9,000 Wisconsinites who have tested positive for the virus, this represents less than 1% of our state’s population. Less than 1%. Just the 500,000 Wisconsinites who have filed for unemployment since April represents 9% of our state’s population. Who is acting the behalf of the 9%? Remember, it isn’t just the number of people who have filed for unemployment. It is also the people dependent upon them for income and support. Was it more important to flatten the curve for infections of COVID-19 or exponentially increase the curve of people joining the unemployment community?
The suffering and the economic damage from the lockdown will go far beyond just those who have filed for unemployment. This suffering will cascade through every segment of the economy, through every community in Wisconsin, through every population, demographic and grouping. The economic damage from the lockdown will not discriminate based on religion, skin color, economic status or sexual orientation. It will hit Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Progressives, Conservatives, Libertarians and even those who want all politicians to go F themselves. The economic damage, if we do not open now, will hit everyone in Wisconsin. No one will be spared.
Governor Evers, you need to free Wisconsinites so they can fight for themselves, so we can find a way to make a living and support our families. You need to trust Wisconsinites that they know what is best for themselves, their health and their loved ones. You need to let Wisconsinites control their own lives and let us, without the heavy hand of government, work towards making tomorrow better than today.
We can do this.
Governor Evers, you must open Wisconsin now.