Wisconsin is a diverse state, from the urban landscape of Milwaukee to the remote lakes of Northern Wisconsin and everything in between. Our diversity is the reason it makes sense to tailor our response to the COVID-19 outbreak in a way that recognizes the differences from one end of our great state to the other.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s latest data, the 32 counties making up the northern, western and central regions of the state, have a total of 15 COVID-19 patients. These 15 individuals are spread across 52 hospitals within those same 32 counties. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services reports that ten counties in the southern and eastern part of the state have had over 87 percent of Wisconsin’s 5,356 reported COVID-19 cases.

The data shows that while COVID-19 must be taken seriously, state leaders should recognize the differences in our state and treat different areas in a way that makes sense for the health and wellbeing of the people in that area.

Other states are already doing this – in New York, the hardest hit state in the nation, Governor Cuomo stated earlier this week, “We’re going to make reopening decisions on a regional basis based on that region’s facts and circumstances…[the] North Country has a totally different situation than New York City. Central New York has a different situation. We operate as one state but we also have to understand variations, and you do want to get this economy open as soon as possible.”

Closer to home, Iowa is using a regional approach to combat the spread of COVID-19 and Pennsylvania is preparing to reopen based on regional and county level conditions.

Recognizing that this serious medical emergency is not a one size fits all problem is exactly why I support the “Back to Business Plan” released Friday. I’ve been involved in trying to find a solution to the dilemma between keeping people safe and making sure our economy can recover, and I believe a plan like this will help immensely as we begin carefully reopening our state.

This plan was developed with input from the medical and businesses communities and takes advantage of recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Businesses and other organizations would use a state website that would help them determine if it is safe for them to open back up and the best way to go about it. They would enter the type of business or organization that they run, as well as the county where they are located into the website. A risk score would be calculated based on the following criteria:

  • Current health care capacity and utilization in their county of operation (including PPE availability, ICU and ventilator capacity)
  • Population density for their county
  • Infection rate for their county
  • Interactive concentration (the amount of individual interaction for that particular business)

The risk score would let the business owner understand what steps would need to be taken to reopen their business. Higher risk scores would require more safety requirements, which might include operating at reduced capacity, stepping up cleaning procedures and personal protective equipment for employees. The score can change depending on current events, so an increase in the infection rate or a drop in ventilator capacity could lead to the need for additional safety requirements to be in place to continue operations.

Every part of our state is different and every business and organization is unique, which is why it just makes sense for us to use a more individualized plan to reopen Wisconsin as safely and quickly as possible. When it comes to getting back to work and keeping everyone safe, businesses and the public should be able to make educated decisions about what works best for them and the people they come into contact with.

Wisconsin should adopt the “Back to Business Plan” because the one size fits all approach we are using now will hurt more people than it helps in the long run. People in Wisconsin can make good choices when they are given the information they need to be safe and healthy. The “Back to Business Plan” allows Wisconsin to move forward safely.

Kathy Bernier (R – Chippewa Falls) represents the 23rd District in the Wisconsin Senate.