Partisan rancor masks real progress against coronavirus in Wisconsin
Partisan rancor masks real progress against coronavirus in Wisconsin
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EDITORIAL

Partisan rancor masks real progress against coronavirus in Wisconsin

A lot of good things are happening in the fight against the novel coronavirus that shouldn’t be missed as our political leaders bicker over how to gradually allow more of Wisconsin’s economy to open.

Most significant: Wisconsin is close to the governor’s testing goal, thanks to 48 labs with a weekly capacity to test nearly 77,000 patients for the virus. Gov. Tony Evers’ goal is 85,000 tests per week, a key milestone toward loosening restrictions on public movement.

“Right now laboratory capacity is sufficient to test anyone with symptoms,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer, said Thursday.

The governor, based on advice from health officials, also wants to see a downward trend in the percent of tests that come back positive. For the last two weeks, that metric has been relatively flat at about 10 percent, according to the state Department of Health Services.

An outbreak linked to Green Bay meatpacking plants pushed Wisconsin’s cases up in recent days. But cases at Madison’s hospitals have leveled off, and emergency room visits with flu-like symptoms are trending down statewide.

That means COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, hasn’t overwhelmed our health systems, which was the greatest fear only weeks ago. UW Hospital also is testing promising plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients, and the state is hiring more tracers to alert people who came into contact with those who are sick.

The public, to its credit, appears to be following social distancing guidelines, which recommend staying 6 feet apart in public and driving only for groceries, medicine or work. Good job and keep it up, Wisconsin. A Wisconsin Policy Forum report last week showed traffic monitored at 61 locations on highways across Wisconsin decreased more than 40% from March to April, representing 1 million fewer vehicles.

An estimated 1,500 protesters rallied against the governor’s stay-at-home order at the state Capitol on Friday, drawing lots of attention. Yet some wore masks or bandannas over their faces, and stayed a safe distance apart. So even they recognize a health risk, and that we can’t return to normal tomorrow. The protesters also were peaceful, and Gov. Evers wisely respected their free speech rights.

The governor has been much more consistent and clear about the risks and how we get out of this crisis than the president. And while top Republicans filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Evers’ extension of his “safer at home” order until May 26, the GOP hasn’t come up with a clear alternative. The truth is: Gov. Evers patterned his plan for when to loosen restrictions after federal guidelines from the Trump administration.

Moreover, Wisconsin started loosening some of its rules last week. Golf courses have opened. Libraries can lend books again. Many businesses deemed nonessential now can sell products curbside. Evers also has pledged to loosen restrictions further and faster if key measures of COVID-19 improve.

Significantly, none of Wisconsin’s top Republican leaders spoke at Friday’s protest. That tells you the politicians are closer on this issue than they’d like to admit.

Another bright spot: Rates of new confirmed COVID-19 cases didn’t increase in Wisconsin compared with the rest of the country after the April 7 election. Thanks to 1.1 million voters who sent in absentee ballots rather than heading to the polls, the election was much safer than some feared.

Companies in Wisconsin such as ND Paper, Kohler and Foxconn have donated tens of thousands of face and medical masks or shields for health care workers, according to the governor. Some 3,000 people have volunteered to help health providers.

Wisconsin still faces significant risk and challenges. As of Saturday, more than 5,600 people had tested positive and 266 had died from COVID-19 here. But don’t lose sight of all the progress being made to defeat this virus.

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