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Business association proposal would provide guidelines for reopening Wisconsin economy amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Business association proposal would provide guidelines for reopening Wisconsin economy amid COVID-19 pandemic

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As frustration among Republican lawmakers mounts over Wisconsin’s “safer at home” order to close down nonessential businesses, the state’s largest business association on Friday unveiled a proposal to reopen the economy.

The proposal came the same day an estimated 1,500 protesters gathered on the state Capitol grounds in defiance of Gov. Tony Evers’ extended stay-at-home order, despite warnings that the mass gathering could increase the spread of COVID-19 and make reopening the economy more difficult.

Evers recently extended his stay-at-home order, which was scheduled to end Friday, until May 26, and later put out a plan for how the state would eventually ease up on restrictions.

The “Wisconsin Normalization” plan unveiled Friday by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce would provide a risk ranking for businesses based on the type of business, its respective county’s health care capacity, infection rate, population density in the region and the concentration of people within the organization.

Under the plan, businesses would receive a placard identifying its level of risk and separating businesses into three categories — minimal, moderate and substantial risk.

In a statement, Evers said he appreciates the business community’s recognition that “we have to approach this like we are turning a dial, not flipping a switch.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites are currently working every day to keep our communities safe and healthy and we owe it to them to take a measured approach to phasing in even more of our workforce,” he said.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, noted the plan does not include key criteria in both the governor’s and Trump administration’s plans to gradually re-open businesses. It does not include the need for additional testing capacity and contact tracing efforts. Under the WMC plan, Brown County, which is now experiencing a massive COVID-19 outbreak, could have opened last week.

Under the WMC plan, businesses would have to follow different requirements based on risk level. Lower-risk businesses would be required to encourage sick employees to stay home, encourage employees to work from home and implement routine cleaning and disinfection.

Substantial risk businesses would need to implement mandatory personal protective equipment guidelines, limit the number of non-employee customers to 50% of fire code capacities and conduct employee entrance screenings, if possible.

“The higher the risk is for your business, the more you’re going to have to do,” said Scott Manley, WMC’s executive vice president of government relations.

Manley said the model would allow all businesses in the state to reopen as long as they follow the recommended guidelines.

“Under this approach, all businesses would be able to open if they undertake the mitigation requirements that would be applicable based on the risk score,” Manley said. “We’re not contemplating sort of picking winners and losers in the marketplace.”

Businesses would be expected to resubmit data every week or so to adjust to COVID-19 trends.

Manley and Kapenga said the proposal has been circulated with state lawmakers and Evers.

“I thought it was a very productive discussion,” Manley said. “We very much look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Evers and his team to hopefully make this model a reality.”

Proponents of the plan hope to implement it by May 4, but added that will likely be a legislative decision.

“Obviously the sooner the better at this point, with what’s going on in the economy,” Manley said.

Evers said Thursday his administration continues to look for more flexibility to reduce restrictions before May 26.

“We believe that the best way to move this state forward is to attack the disease, attack the virus,” Evers said. “While we’re doing that, we’re also looking for every flexibility we can find to dial back things that may be restricting businesses from opening or expanding.”

Not all businesses are pressing hard to reopen as soon as Evers’ order is lifted. Great Wolf Lodge announced it will extend the closure of all resorts through June 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

State Journal reporter Riley Vetterkind contributed to this report.

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