MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers was scheduled to meet with legislative leaders on Monday to discuss the next steps in Wisconsin’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in a rare gathering of top Republicans and Democrats as pressure builds to more rapidly reopen the state’s economy.
The late afternoon meeting comes the day before the Wisconsin Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case brought by the Republican legislative leaders seeking to block Evers’ “safer at home” order that is slated to run until May 26. Both Evers and Republican Assembly leaders expressed a willingness on Friday to meet.
Evers and Republicans have said they want to work together on the state’s virus response plan, but Republicans have been increasingly critical of Evers’ approach to the COVID-19 crisis. Republicans, along with the state chamber of commerce, have been pushing for a more rapid reopening of the state, including possibly easing restrictions more rapidly in areas not as affected by the virus.
Evers last week criticized Republicans for not coming forward with their own plan.
“I have a plan and they sued me,” Evers said on WTMJ-AM. “If they have a plan, I’d be glad to sit down and talk with them.”
On Friday, Assembly Republican leaders sent Evers a letter asking for a two-hour meeting.
“We would like to discuss a targeted and regional way to safely reopen businesses; it doesn’t make sense to treat Superior the same as Milwaukee,” they wrote.
Evers has loosened numerous restrictions in recent days, after he extended the order. Last week, 34 state parks that had been closed for three weeks were allowed to reopen and Evers also permitted businesses able to offer contact-less curbside services to reopen. However, bars and restaurants remain closed other than for carry out or delivery, and all schools are closed through the remainder of the academic year.
The meeting Monday was to include Evers; Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos; Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald; Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz; and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewly.
To date, 339 people have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin and the state has had nearly 8,000 confirmed cases, according to the state Department of Health Services. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher, though, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.
Evers’ reopening plan calls for a loosening of restrictions after a 14-day downward trend in positive cases as a percentage of total tests. There has been no clear trend over the past seven days. Positive cases were 11.1% of all tests on Sunday, which was up from 10.3% the day before.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.