By Shereen Siewert
Coronavirus cases in Wisconsin continued to tick upward on Friday, with the number of confirmed infections reaching 4,045 and the death toll rising to 205.
Marathon County cases rose to 16 on Friday, with one fatality. The number of recoveries is unclear.
Though many residents and some lawmakers are increasingly uncomfortable with Safer at Home guidelines, now extended through Memorial Day in Wisconsin, the continued upward trend means the state is not yet on a trajectory to reopen based on guidelines issued this week by the Trump administration. The federal guidelines, which are non-binding, call for states to pass checkpoints before advancing from one phase to another, including a 14-day downward trend in the number of confirmed cases reported.
Gov. Tony Evers is one of seven Midwestern governors who agreed to work together to create uniform guidelines easing stay-at-home restrictions and reopen their states’ economies.
The governors said in a statement announcing the coalition: “We are doing everything we can to protect the people of our states and slow the spread of COVID-19, and we are eager to work together to mitigate the economic crisis this virus has caused in our region. Here in the Midwest, we are bound by our commitment to our people and the community. We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet.”
The statement clearly indicates that state leaders, and not someone else, will decide what is right for residents and that health will be the top consideration.
The states “will work in close coordination to reopen our economies in a way that prioritizes our workers’ health,” the joint statement says. “We look forward to working with experts and taking a fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19.”
The statement says reopening portions of the economy at different times—perhaps in different sections of states—is a possibility.
But Evers’ decision is likely to result in lawsuits that may determine who has the power to say when the state can start to reopen, experts say.
“We’re angry, we’re frustrated and we’re trying to push back in every way that we can so we can succeed,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on WISN-AM on Friday. Vos said his goal was to have a legal strategy in place for next week, but he doesn’t want to file a lawsuit that could lose and result in giving Evers more power.
Prior to the order extension, there were rifts between Evers and Republicans over the state’s response, but they had largely been unified. Evers signed a COVID-19 aid bill Wednesday that passed with near unanimous support in the Legislature.
However, as unemployment skyrocketed with nearly 400,000 people out of work as of Friday, pressure was building from those out of work and businesses eager to reopen and looking for a plan for how that would happen.
Thousands of Wisconsin residents are expected to protest in Madison and at locations around the state this weekend, including a rally set for 2 p.m. in Mosinee. Marathon County Chief Deputy Sheriff Chad Billeb said his department has assigned staff to help where and if they are needed, though the responsibility to police the event ultimately falls with the city of Mosinee.
“We have been in contact with the organizers and they are planning a peaceful rally,” Billeb said. “A great deal of effort has gone into putting safeguards in place. (The organizers) have told us they will practice social distancing and encourage additional precautions (masks, etc.).”
Billeb pointed out that Evers made a statement that people are welcome to protest as long as they practice social distancing.
Vos said he and other Republicans recognize the serious of the pandemic and acknowledge that the threat is real.
“What’s missing from Evers is an appreciation for how the economy is “starving,” Vos said.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.