This past weekend we saw protesters defy health guidelines by gathering to demand an end to Governor Evers’ Safer at Home order. Though dangerously ill-advised, both the protest itself and policies it called for are predictable reactions to the ongoing shutdown. We all want life to get back to normal. We all want to get a haircut and a beer at the bar.
However, those we elect to public office have a duty to look beyond what might be immediately popular to what is genuinely in the public interest. Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature are failing this critical leadership test badly. Instead of working with Governor Evers during this crisis, they are pandering to the reckless and self-centered “open everything now” crowd, going so far as to threaten to challenge the Safer at Home order in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If ever there was a time for state GOP leaders to abandon their hyper-partisan, take-no-prisoners playbook in favor of genuine bi-partisan problem solving, it is now. There are lives at stake.
No one can deny the profound negative impacts, both economic and personal, the shutdown has caused, from record unemployment to being unable to comfort your mother in a nursing home or hospital when the end is near. However, experts across the board strongly agree that the consequences of prematurely returning to business as usual would be far more catastrophic. Despite the current limited level of economic activity in our state, far too many essential workers still on the job are working without adequate personal protective equipment; their workplaces are not sufficiently cleaned and sanitized; recommended social distancing is not universally practiced. We’ve seen the result — many have contracted the virus and sadly, a growing number have died. Some manufacturing and food processing plants have even temporarily shutdown as a result.
Imagine what will happen if Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald, and the GOP get their way and we ignore the advice of health professionals and prematurely lift restrictions before we have the capacity to effectively address the pandemic. Both near and long-term impacts will be dire. Many more inadequately protected workers will return to the job and immediately get sick. They will bring the virus into their homes, infecting family members, including those most vulnerable. They will expose members of the public with whom they interact, exponentially spiking the infection curve. Gains we have made against the pandemic will quickly be reversed, leaving our over-stretched healthcare system with little ability to respond. Many more of our neighbors will leave the hospital in body bags.
Longer term, as the pandemic rages, more businesses will close their doors, this time for good. The resulting economic shockwaves will decimate large sectors of the economy to an extent not seen since the Great Depression. The economic damage will likely be accompanied by symptoms of despair — drug addiction and suicide, felt disproportionally by working families who have lost any semblance of hope and security.
Fortunately, this dark future can be avoided, but only if we act responsibly now. We need to keep policies like Safer at Home in place until we can safeguard everyone on the job with appropriate personal protective equipment and other workplace policies like regular sanitation and cleaning. We need to ramp up our testing capacity, and bring down the number of cases to a level our healthcare system can safely handle.
Despite the many challenges we’re facing, working people are prepared to stay the course for the good of all. By avoiding a rush to a false sense of normalcy we will we be able to build a more stable and resilient economy that works for everyone. We support Governor Evers’ efforts in this crisis and call on each and every elected official to set politics aside and work to become part of the solution.