Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Nov. 22

Where is the leadership from state government?

We understand that top state leaders often disagree.

What we don’t get is why they hadn’t met for six months — not even by video conference — to discuss the pandemic.

That’s no way to run our state government, especially when COVID-19 has killed more than 3,000, hospitalized 15,000 and infected 350,000 across Wisconsin. No wonder the disease is running rampant, and public guidance is so conflicted.

Some hope came last week when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and top Republican lawmakers emerged from their first meeting since May. Both sides suggested their discussion was productive and that they would try to work together.

They absolutely should continue the governor’s public mask mandate. It’s not just key to keeping people safe from a deadly disease. It also helps keep our economy open.

If the state Supreme Court strikes down Evers’ mask order as an overreach of his powers, then Evers should quickly negotiate with the Legislature on new parameters for it to continue. If that doesn’t work, the public should continue to cover their faces on their own.

Wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience when you go inside a grocery store, gas station or some other enclosed public space. It prevents people from coughing on one another. And when you are inside a building, the virus is much easier to transmit — even among people who feel fine. Some COVID carriers exhibit no symptoms.

Wisconsin is heading in the wrong direction with one of the fastest infection rates in the country. Yet we’re getting closer each day to a vaccine. Two manufacturers reported their vaccines are more than 90% effective this month and could be distributed to 700,000 health care workers and high-risk residents in Wisconsin by the end of the year.

That’s why we all need to hang in there a little bit longer, being careful not to expose loved ones to unnecessary risk.

Wisconsin hospitals are on the brink of “catastrophe,” Eric Borgerding of the Wisconsin Hospital Association told state leaders last week. He implored “a united and substantial response” to slow demand for care.

We sure hope the governor, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, were listening. Borgerding urged leaders to continue the mask mandate, address hospital staffing shortages, expand testing and open more overflow facilities for COVID patients. All of those requests deserve broad support.

LeMahieu is new to his leadership position. But Vos has no excuse for stalling state action for months — especially when he and the governor appear to agree, for example, on investing more in testing.

Locally, Dane County issued a confusing rule last week. The purpose seemed fine: to discourage families from gathering for Thanksgiving. But facing lots of questions about their vague order, Dane County officials acknowledged it forbids anyone from entering another person’s private home to socialize. You can’t even have a cup of coffee from a distance. The problem with such strict government dictates is they antagonize people who might otherwise be more careful.

This pandemic has been hard on everyone. It has cost jobs, kept children out of school and left the elderly lonely and vulnerable.

Wisconsin needs more unity against the common enemy of COVID-19. That starts with our elected leaders. Yet in the absence of strong leadership, we the people must take precautions on our own. We’ve come so far in sacrificing for others. More caution is required before the virus is finally defeated.


Kenosha News, Kenosha, Nov. 22

Supreme Court should rule on Racine's overreach

It’s one thing when an individual school district, such as Racine or Kenosha Unified, decide that they are going to go virtual. It’s another thing for the Racine health department to step in and rule that all schools, including private schools, in its jurisdiction must also shut their doors.

Yet that is exactly what Racine’s health director did when issuing an order saying that all schools within the department’s jurisdiction must switch to virtual learning from Nov. 27 through Jan. 15. That includes not just schools in private and public schools in Racine, but also Elmwood Park and Wind Point.

Now, local parents along with the assistance of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty are fighting the order, trying to stop it before it goes into effect.

And they are right to fight it. It’s an overreach by the City of Racine.

It’s exactly the type of order that the Wisconsin Supreme Court halted in September when Dane County and Public Health Madison tried to require virtual learning there for grades 3-12.

In the Supreme Court opinion released on the same day the court temporarily put the Dane County order on hold, the court said “local health officers do not appear to have statutory authority to do what the Order commands.”

That Dane County case, in which WILL is representing petitioners as well, is set for oral arguments on Dec. 8. But the Supreme Court shouldn’t wait until then. This needs to be decided now.

Here in Racine many families, who were not able to stay home with their kids, had to look for alternatives and that meant sending them this year to a private school. Now those families are losing their only in-person school option and that will mean some parents may lose their jobs.

In talking about the order, Anthony LoCoco, the deputy counsel for WILL, said, “I am certainly not disputing that COVID-19 presents a serious public health challenge. But it needs to be responded to within the limits of the law. We don’t abandon the laws even in times of emergencies.”

While the coronavirus is something we have never seen before in our lifetimes, once the virus is gone eventually there will be some other emergency in the future and what is happening today is setting precedent for the future. And who is to say that the order will not be extended?

According to state regulations for private schools listed on the U.S. Department of Education website, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has the authority to close private schools to control outbreaks. Local health officers are not mentioned.

When school districts such as Racine Unified opted to go virtual, we had concerns. But at least in that case, the district made its decision by getting feedback and making what it thought was the best decision for its staff and families.

In this case, the smaller schools and their families are taken out of the equation. They weren’t asked what they thought of the change. They were not asked what safety measures they are taking currently. In fact some of these private schools have temporarily shut down themselves when issues arose.

In issuing the new order, Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the city public health administrator, said: “COVID-19 is being spread throughout the community in the number of daily cases and rates of positivity that have not been seen before. Outbreaks are linked to family gatherings on private property with people from outside of their household including sports parties, baby showers, and backyard gatherings. In addition, through retail establishments and employment situations.”

What is next? Are we shutting down all businesses again and sending the police to enforce backyard gatherings?

Coronavirus needs to be taken seriously and just as they have been doing now, private schools need to work with the health department IF they have an outbreak or IF a specific class has had an exposure. But that should continue to be done on a case by case basis, not in one big overarching swoop.

The Supreme Court needs to rule on this now to set the record straight and, if there is any delay, this order should be put on hold until a decision is made.