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Plain Talk: With Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis, will Wisconsin Republicans finally take the disease seriously?

Plain Talk: With Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis, will Wisconsin Republicans finally take the disease seriously?

Republicans dismissing COVID concerns

Republican legislators in Wisconsin have spent weeks spreading misinformation, dismissing the need for masks or even social distancing. (L-R: Rep. Barbara Dittrich, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Chris Kapenga, Sen. Howard Marklein, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos)

Now that their leader, Donald Trump, has — through his own purposeful carelessness — come down with COVID-19, one can only hope that Wisconsin Republicans will get serious about this deadly disease, too.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, now poised to win a congressional seat, famously declared he wasn't going to let Gov. Tony Evers push him around over wearing masks. His compatriot, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, has consistently insisted that the governor is acting illegally, although he's not willing to risk possible voters' wrath by convening legislators to do something about it.

Instead, he and other Republican officials are relying on their nonprofit legal enablers, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, to get the courts to rescind Evers' call for precautions. WILL's latest attempt to overturn Evers could result in a ruling this week.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. All through the state — now one of the nation's hardest hit by the virus — Republican legislators have spent weeks during this campaign spreading misinformation, dismissing the need for masks or even social distancing.

In a recent story, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed some of that activity.

Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, has been telling her constituents there is no longer a danger of COVID-19 causing a large number of deaths. On the day of her comments, the paper reported, the death toll climbed over 200,000. Shortly after, 27 Wisconsinites succumbed to the disease in just one day.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, told his constituents that hospitals in the state were not overrun and there is no connection between a rising number of infections and hospitalizations or deaths. That same day, the paper noted, a hospital in northeastern Wisconsin had to treat people in hallways because it was so overwhelmed with infected patients.

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield — who has long dismissed the seriousness of the disease — claimed in a late September press release that COVID-19 patients needing intensive care had taken up about 100 beds out of 1,400 available in Wisconsin. In fact, there were 134 in the ICU and a week later, 208.

Kapenga's statement also claimed "there is not a scientific consensus that using face coverings have been proven to stop the spread of the virus" and that the masks "have become a politicized mental placebo."

Perhaps it should be pointed out that Kapenga is an accountant, not a doctor — because if he were one, he'd be charged with malpractice, as UW medical professor Patrick Remington declared.

But, that hasn't stopped the likes of Fond du Lac GOP State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Waukesha's Scott Allen, who has now also been infected, from dismissing mask use, claiming instead that data show "masks either hurt or do not seem to make a difference."

Asked for comment, Evers told the newspaper that it's been damn hard to get effective use of masks when GOP leaders downplay the seriousness of the disease.

"That sends a message of what we're trying to accomplish is baloney," the governor added.

Yet, that's the same kind of nonsense that Donald Trump and his entourage have been spreading for the past six months. The sickened president has done everything he could to dismiss the safety protocols, mocking his own staffers and reporters at press briefings for wearing face coverings.

Now, the president and many of his close supporters who have willfully shunned wearing a mask and ridiculed those who do, like Joe Biden, are paying a price for flouting advice from public health experts. It's hard not to tell them, "I told you so."

The pity is that so many Americans, including many in Wisconsin, have paid an even higher price thanks to so-called leaders deciding to play politics with a deadly health emergency.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Perhaps not, at least for Wisconsin's own Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who now is quarantined following a COVID-19 positive test last weekend.

Asked if his own infection has changed his mind about mask mandates, he answered, no, it hasn't.

He thinks people should probably wear a mask, but "I'm not in favor of mask mandates. I think it's up to individuals to be responsible."

If we want to get this horrendous and deadly virus under control, maybe we should be asking those we elected to be our leaders to show some responsibility, too.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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