Gov. Tony Evers addressed the state’s continuing COVID-19 outbreak at a media briefing Thursday. The legislature has not taken action on the pandemic since April, prompting concern from Democrats.
According to state Department of Health Services data, 1,703 Wisconsinites have died due to the coronavirus as of Oct. 22, up almost 500 in just 30 days. All but four Wisconsin counties have “very high” case activity levels. There are about 39,000 active cases in Wisconsin as of Oct. 22.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., claimed Wednesday that Wisconsin had “flattened the curve” despite evidence that the virus is surging. Evers addressed those downplaying the pandemic in the briefing.
“They’re flat out wrong. Wisconsinites of every corner of our state have experienced this virus firsthand,” Evers said.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, noted that asymptomatic individuals who are unaware they are infected are the main spreaders of the virus. He said testing all individuals exposed or potentially exposed is the best way to contain the spread.
“Right now it’s inappropriate in my view for anyone to get turned away from a test because they’re concerned that they’ve been exposed, even if they haven’t been identified by a contact tracer as having been exposed,” Westergaard said. “That’s the situation where we are right now. This virus is spreading silently, we have to presume that it’s everywhere and anyone that has access to a test should get a test.”
State Republicans believe that there is little the government can do to stop the outbreak. The Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation in April that suspended a waiting period to claim unemployment benefits and gave insurance protections to those infected with the virus. However, they have not passed legislation since then.
Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin and chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, said that Evers’ mask mandate was put in place illegally, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He said he would support a mask mandate put in place by lawmakers, which most Republicans have opposed.
“Beyond that, I think we have to remember that this is a virus. There is nothing that government can do,” Sanfelippo said in an interview with Wiseye. “We can’t wave a magic wand and make it go away.”
Democrats have grown frustrated with the lack of Republican effort to handle the pandemic in the state.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said Republican legislators have failed to do their job.
“It is unbelievable that during this health crisis the Republican Senate has been in session only 3 days in 2020. Overall the Republican-controlled State Senate has met just 14% of its 89 regularly scheduled session days for the entire 2019-2020 session,” Carpenter said in a press release.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, refuted this idea, stating that the governor has the power to make decisions regarding the handling of the virus. Darling said that lawmakers gave Evers the ability to spend federal funding to address the pandemic, though he already had the ability to allocate it, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“We don’t need to come in because we gave him all the flexibility that he needs,” said Darling.
state news writer