Janestown Gazette. February 19, 2021.

Editorial: Local progress against COVID-19 encouraging

If you doubt the effectiveness of masks, washing hands and social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19, then look at how those measures have decimated the number of influenza cases in Rock County.

As reporter Ashley McCallum shared in an article this week, the number of flu cases so far is down 85%—from 4,887 in the 2019-20 flu season to 742 this flu season.

The current flu season isn’t over, but an 85% reduction to date is remarkable. Rock County has seen zero hospitalizations for the flu this season. Last season, we had 145.

Health officials nationwide warned this summer about the potential for a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 that would have been catastrophic to the health care system. That hasn’t happened.

Nick Zupan, county epidemiologist, agreed that COVID-19 precautions are equally effective against the flu.

Although the wearing of masks has become politicized, science and local data show masking and other precautions work.

Something else that probably helped the flu numbers: More people this season have gotten a flu shot. That should give encouragement to Rock County people considering getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many already have.

We’ve had some hiccups in the delivery of vaccine to some local health care organizations, but as of Thursday, 22,757 people in Rock County had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 9,498 had received two doses.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down. There have been 14,194 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County since the pandemic reached the county in March. Of those, 4%, or about 568, have been hospitalized, according to county data.

As of Tuesday, Rock County had 11 people hospitalized for COVID-19, the fewest since Sept. 23.

That led Beloit Health System to loosen its visitors policy, and we understand other local health care providers are considering similar changes next week.

Walworth County on Jan. 25 improved from Phase 1 reopening to Phase 2. Rock County remains in Phase 1, but many of the Rock County indicators have improved from red to yellow to green.

One more encouraging development: The deep freeze that has kept us huddled indoors sharing oxygen is about to break. The forecast calls for a high temperature of 40 degrees Tuesday. That’s shirt-sleeve weather compared to what we’ve been enduring and will invite everyone to get outdoors for some fresh air.

Although such encouraging trends are delivering a sliver of sunshine through the COVID-19 clouds, we aren’t through this yet.

Keep masking. Keeping washing your hands. Keep your distance.

It works. The local flu data is evidence.

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Racine Journal Times. February 18, 2021.

Editorials: On masks, time for state Supreme Court to act

Gov. Tony Evers issues the latest in a series of emergency mask orders.

The Republicans in the majority of the two houses of the state Legislature object, claiming he doesn’t have the power to do that.

Evers issues another emergency mask order after the previous one expires.

The legislative Republicans pass a repeal of Evers’ order, one not subject to his approval or vulnerable to a veto.

Evers issues a new emergency order little more than an hour later.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We’re left to wonder how many cycles of this we in Wisconsin are going to have before the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

We encourage the wearing of masks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But we do so because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge all Americans to do so.

But we are sympathetic to the idea that no state chief executive should govern by emergency decree, that he is obligated to either work with the Legislature or veto bills sent to him.

We take the Republicans in the Legislature at their word that their repeal of Evers’ mask mandate is an objection not to his urging that Wisconsinites wear masks to what they say is the governor exceeding his authority. There’s evidence to support that, in the form of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, making a public-service announcement in late November with his friend, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, urging residents of the Badger State to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“This is not about whether face masks are good or bad,” Republican Sen. Steve Nass, whose district includes part of southwestern Racine County, said during the debate over the repeal resolution he had authored. “This is about repeatedly issuing emergency orders contrary to what the law allows. It’s about the rule of law.”

An important party to the rule of law has been missing in the tug of war between Evers and the legislative Republicans: The Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments on Nov. 16 — three months ago — regarding whether Evers had exceeded his authority.

Evers argued that he can issue multiple health emergency orders, even though state law limits them to 60 days, because of the changing threat caused by the pandemic, the Associated Press reported. But those challenging the mask mandate argued that Evers is only allowed to issue one 60-day health emergency for the same pandemic and only the Legislature can extend it.

During the November arguments, Justice Brian Hagedorn questioned Evers’ authority to renew health emergencies beyond the 60-day limit. He said the was an “extraordinary grant of short-term power to the governor” and that “it seems like the Legislature wanted to allow for only a very short period of time.”

“Nobody’s questioning the governor’s sincerity in trying to do what he thinks is right here,” Hagedorn said. “But he can only do what the power he’s been given to do.”

Hannah Jurss, an assistant attorney general defending Evers, countered that the governor doesn’t have “one and done” authority over a health emergency, and as conditions warrant he may need to issue subsequent orders. “Emergency conditions don’t necessarily work in predictable ways,” she said.

Justice Rebecca Bradley, part of the court’s conservative majority, was skeptical. “I don’t understand how the 60-day limit in the (law) would ever come into play if we accept the governor’s interpretation,” she said.

Attorney Matthew Fernholz, arguing for the plaintiff — Jere Fabick, a major Republican donor in Wisconsin — argued that “these orders represent an unlawful end run around the Legislature’s 60-day limit on the exercise of emergency powers. This court should declare these orders unlawful and void.”

These are serious questions, with legitimate concerns on both sides. A question of weighing the state government’s role in protecting public health against what constitutes a legitimate use of gubernatorial power.

The questions have gotten no less urgent in the three months the state Supreme Court has spent on the sidelines instead of issuing a ruling.

We think it’s high time the state’s highest court assert itself as a co-equal branch of government and render judgement in the ongoing debate between the executive and legislative branches.

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Wisconsin State Journal. February 21, 2021.

Editorial: 3 big ideas must stay in Wisconsin’s budget

Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget is strewn with wish-list policy items that fellow Democrats will love, such as repealing his predecessor’s union restrictions. Most have little chance of clearing the Republican-run Legislature.

But three of the governor’s major spending priorities deserve broad bipartisan support:

1. Investing in our universities, especially UW-Madison.

2. Encouraging more private investment in promising technology startups across the state.

3. Expanding access to high-speed internet in rural areas.

The Brookings Institute just cited a handful of cities with major research universities — Boulder, Colorado; Iowa City, Iowa; Nashville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh and, significantly, Madison — that are well positioned to attract innovative companies and workers fleeing the East and West coasts because of congestion, pollution and soaring housing costs. The pandemic has taught high-flying techies they can work from just about anywhere if the Wi-Fi signal is strong and fast.

But investing in young talent and higher education is necessary to make that happen in Wisconsin.

“As coastal entrepreneurs and tech companies consider taking up residence in America’s heartland,” John C. Austin writes for Brookings this month, “there is a real opportunity to reshape the nation’s lopsided employment picture — let’s not waste it by neglecting our public universities.”

To his credit, Gov. Evers wants to seize this opportunity. His $91 billion, two-year state budget request, unveiled Tuesday, includes a $190 million increase for the University of Wisconsin System. Some of that money would allow UW System to avoid tuition hikes and expand scholarships. That would help students and their families while addressing sagging enrollment. Some of the increase in state funds would keep students and staff safe from COVID-19 while filling a shortage in nursing educators.

Just as promising is the governor’s request for a $100 million investment in a venture capital fund to expand startup businesses with creative ideas developed across Wisconsin. The fund would leverage at least twice as much in private dollars, and the state could earn income from the fund over time. In Ohio, for example, a similar commitment of $130 million in state money helped to attract more than $1.3 billion from private investors for 107 companies, according to the nonprofit Wisconsin Technology Council.

The growth of Wisconsin’s tech sector has been a bright spot in Wisconsin’s economy for years, and not just in Madison. Yet for rural areas to benefit more, they need high-speed internet. That’s why Evers is calling for a $200 million increase in spending on broadband technology across the state. Many tech-savvy businesses and workers, including millennials, are looking for scenic landscapes with outdoor fun — but only if they can quickly connect to the global economy. That’s what Wisconsin can and should offer.

UW System President Tommy Thompson, a former Republican governor, praised Evers’ investment in UW System, saying it would “allow us to tackle some of Wisconsin’s most pressing challenges.”

He’s right.

So far, top GOP lawmakers have expressed support for investing in broadband, which is encouraging. The Legislature also should get behind Evers’ generous investment in UW System, its students and exciting research.

Wisconsin’s congressional delegation has a role to play, too. They should rally support for the Endless Frontier Act, a $100 billion investment to renew America’s leadership in science and technology. U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, is a cosponsor with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. Most of that money would flow through research universities and their partners.

Wisconsin’s finances are relatively solid, allowing for more spending on key priorities. For the first time in decades, Wisconsin’s budget is balanced when generally accepted accounting principles are followed. Evers’ budget, which hikes spending about 5% a year, could reverse that positive trend. The Legislature’s budget committee must be prudent.

Yet the governor’s smart commitments to universities, innovation and faster internet deserve bipartisan backing. His budget proposal offers Republicans some big themes they should embrace.

END