Believe it or not, the two sides sparring over how to reopen Wisconsin’s economy want the same thing.
Democrats and Republicans alike want employers, employees and customers to feel confident in whatever plan the state implements to reopen the economy. As difficult as the past several weeks have been for businesses, a poorly executed reopening could prove even more disastrous, wasting the sacrifices people made under the state’s safer-at-home order.
Gov. Tony Evers’ Badger Bounce Back plan takes a cautious approach but isn’t radical, as it largely incorporates the White House’s Opening Up America Again guidelines. When Republican lawmakers, such as state Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, condemn Evers’ plan, they are also criticizing the guidance provided by President Trump’s administration. Both plans call for reopening the economy in three phases. Both plans require monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 cases to determine the timing of reopening economy, namely a 14-day decrease in positive COVID-19 tests as a percentage of total tests. Both provide a pathway for all businesses to eventually reopen, while continuing social distancing.
A critical element of Evers’ plan is to increase testing capacity and contact tracing investigations. Specifically, Evers wants to increase statewide testing capacity to 12,000 per day from current levels of about 7,800 per day. He is also seeking to hire 1,000 people to conduct contact-tracing interviews with people who test positive for COVID-19 to figure out how many others might have been exposed to the virus.
Evers makes an assumption—a reasonable one, we believe—that reopening the economy without the ability to contain and track the virus’ spread would spark a COVID-19 resurgence. His plan treats the reopening as a marathon, not a sprint. His plan won’t deliver an immediate boost to businesses but offers the prospect of better, long-term results.
It is a balancing act that neither political party can execute perfectly, which is why it’s important not to politicize the pandemic. While we largely support Evers’ approach, his administration should work closely with other groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. It is calling for a geographic-specific reopening, which would allow some areas of the state to reopen before others.
We see no problem with reopening some parts of the state sooner if they meet the 14-day gateway criteria—but only so long as adequate testing and contact tracing are in place, without which relatively unscathed areas could quickly become COVID-19 hotspots.
Business groups and lawmakers should press the federal government to provide more COVID-19 testing kits and related infrastructure. Nations that have had some success in reopening, such as South Korea, have invested heavily in testing at a national level. Making sure everybody who wants a test can get one isn’t just smart public health policy. It’s smart economic policy.
We hope Evers shows a willingness to revise his Badger Bounce Back plan as the state learns more about COVID-19 and its effects on the economy. But as presented, this plan doesn’t strike us as part of some left-wing agenda like some of Evers’ critics in the Legislature claim. The plan calls for reopening the economy in a responsible way.
What’s sorely needed now is the patience to give the plan a chance to work.