MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to block an extension of the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order, even as Vice President Mike Pence said social distancing and other mitigation efforts are slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The lawsuit was expected after Gov. Tony Evers’ health secretary last week ordered nonessential businesses to remain closed until May 26. The original order had been scheduled to end Friday.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly, skipping lower courts and allowing for a faster final ruling. They argue Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm exceeded her authority.
Earlier Tuesday, Evers defended the extended stay-at-home order.
“This is a 24-7 war against the virus,” Evers said on WTMJ-AM. “It’s going to be slow. It’s going to be measured. It’s going to be thoughtful.”
On Monday, Evers released his plan for reopening Wisconsin that requires, among other things, a 14-day decline in positive COVID-19 cases and more protective equipment, tests and other supplies to deal with the pandemic. He noted that his plan mirrored guidelines issued by President Donald Trump’s administration.
“I just accepted the biggest Republican in the country, his plan, because it’s a rational plan,” Evers said. “Now, if the state Republicans don’t think Donald Trump is appropriate, they can deal with Donald Trump, I guess.”
Also Tuesday, Pence visited GE Healthcare in Madison, where he thanked the workers manufacturing ventilators for patients hospitalized with the virus. He said embracing social distancing and other mitigation efforts have slowed the spread of the virus and freed up capacity in the health care system.
According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, there were 318 COVID-19 patients on ventilators as of Monday and there were 1,251 ventilators available statewide.
Evers did not join Pence at the manufacturing facility, which is about 9 miles from the Capitol.
Democrats used Pence’s visit to criticize the federal response to the pandemic.
Trump has had a “slow and erratic response” and failed to ramp up production of needed equipment, Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. He accused Pence of using Wisconsin as a “backdrop to a political photo opportunity.”
Pence, who has sought to assure states about federal help, posed with GE Healthcare employees and accepted a T-shirt that said “Union machinists saves lives.” He thanked them and their union for upping production.
GE Healthcare announced last month that it was doubling ventilator production and expanding the Madison facility to become a 24-hour operation. GE said it plans to double production again by the end of June.
“Thank you for stepping up,” Pence told workers. “You’re really making a difference. You’re saving lives.”
Wisconsin does not have the supplies it needs to combat the virus, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, all Democrats, in a letter to Trump sent Monday.
The criticism echoes concerns from Evers and other governors about the lack of supplies.
Pocan, citing a letter his office received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, said Wisconsin has received only a fraction of the supplies that Evers requested. The White House provided a tally that included supplies provided by FEMA and purchased from private vendors.
For example, Wisconsin has received about 2,800 out of 60,000 plastic tips requested for testing and about 3,500 out of 10,000 testing swabs, letters between the state and federal officials provided by Pocan show. It has also not received the number of reagent kits and other testing materials that Evers requested in March.
In a letter to Pocan, Baldwin and Moore, FEMA regional administrator James Joseph said the agency has made “enormous efforts” to fulfill Wisconsin’s needs.
“Unfortunately, the global demand for many of the requested items far outpaces the supply, and so, while we are engaged in intense efforts to increase supply, we must be judicious in our distribution until such time as we can fulfill every request that is made,” Joseph wrote.
To date, 242 people have died in Wisconsin and more than 4,600 have tested positive. There were 358 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Monday, a decline of 83 patients over the past seven days.