MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Latest on the coronavirus outbreak in Wisconsin:
Gov. Tony Evers’ attorney is warning that Wisconsin would see a confusing patchwork of county stay-at-home orders if the state Supreme Court strikes down the existing statewide mandate.
Republican legislators asked the conservative-leaning high court earlier this month to strike down Evers’ statewide order, saying the mandate is crushing the state’s economy.
Multiple groups filed briefs with the court Wednesday arguing for and against the statewide order. Church groups and legal scholars contend Evers is well within his rights to impose the order. Conservative groups, including organizations representing hunters and fishing guides, insist the governor overstepped his authority.
Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, told reporters during a conference call that if the court strikes down the statewide order counties would be on their own and would start issuing localized stay-at-home orders. He said the rules would change for anyone crossing a county line.
Dr. Jim Conway, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told reporters on the call that if the statewide order is erased the state would start seeing major outbreaks within a week.
Wisconsin health officials have investigated 93 outbreaks of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities in the state, including one with 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The median number of cases in each facility was six.
There have been more investigations of outbreaks at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living centers, than any other type of facility in Wisconsin, data released Wednesday showed.
The state Department of Health Services released new summaries of its investigations into outbreaks, without naming the specific facilities.
After long-term care facilities, non-health care work places accounted for the next highest number of outbreaks with 48. Those include manufacturing and production facilities, distribution facilities, offices, and other indoor work places.
There have been 25 investigations into outbreaks at group housing facilities and 11 at health care facilities. There have been 10 investigations into other work places including adult or child day care centers, restaurants, event spaces, and religious settings.
University of Wisconsin-Madison officials are ordering most employees to take furlough days through October and top campus leaders will take pay cuts as the school tries to absorb a $100 million loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent an email to employees Wednesday saying most workers will have to take between three and six furlough days between May 15 and Oct. 31. Employees earning less than $50,000 must take three days, those earning between $50,000 and $80,000 must take four days, those earning between $80,001 and $150,000 must take five days and those earning more than $150,000 must take six days. Graduate assistants, post-doctoral, temporary and student workers will be exempt.
Blank, Provost John Scholz and vice chancellors will voluntarily take a 15% pay cut for the next six months in addition to their six furlough days.
Work units that have seen heavy reductions in on-site tasks will adopt a work-share program in which employees will share tasks on a part-time basis. The change means employees in those units can expect to see between a 10% and 60% reduction in their hours.
The school also will offer voluntary leave without pay if workers want to take it.
Blank said the moves will save up to $30 million toward the university’s $100 million shortfall.
Gov. Tony Evers’ administration has ordered state agencies to cut spending by 5% as revenue drops during the coronavirus pandemic.
WisPolitics.com obtained a letter that state Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan sent to state employees Tuesday evening informing them of the cut.
Brennan also said in the letter that a state hiring freeze will continue albeit with exemptions for positions related to responding to the pandemic and positions considered essential for maintaining state agency functions. Merit raises have been suspended and employee travel will be restricted to pandemic response, he added.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos praised the move and said Evers should also consider freezing spending during the second year of the budget which begins July 1.
“While we don’t know the complete picture for the state’s finances yet, we know it’s not going to be good,” Vos said.
Evers told President Donald Trump in a letter earlier this month that the state could lose as much as $2 billion over the next year, although the administration hasn’t conducted a revenue projection since the pandemic began.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a ripple effect on frack sand mining plants in Wisconsin. At least three plants have shut down this month amid crashing oil and gas prices.
The latest plant closure was reported this week to the state Department of Workforce Development. Eau Claire-based Smart Sand said it was laying off 55 workers at its plant in Tomah, the Journal Sentinel reported.
Hi-Crush Inc. said it would permanently lay off 67 workers. A total of 35 jobs will be cut at a plant in Whitehall and 32 at a plant in Taylor.
“The layoff is in response to unforeseen business circumstances related to the acute and precipitous downturn in oil and gas prices driven by the Saudi/Russia oil price war and the related impacts of COVID-19 on the demand for the company’s sand product,” Hi-Crush said in a letter to state officials.
Sand is used in the process of fracturing shale rock to get the oil and natural gas held within the rock.