Part Five: GIRD YOUR LOINS, THE COVID STORM IS HERE: Wisconsin’s Approach to COVID-19
by Jacques C. Condon
Part five, with this and other posts raising issues worth considering in addressing Wisconsin’s response to COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus pandemic.
PART FIVE: Gird Your Loins, The COVID Storm Is Here
GIRD YOUR LOINS, THE SNOW STORM IS COMING, MAYBE
Other than seasonal flu (which again, as prior posts pointed out, may be an inapt description of this particular virus), Wisconsin residents face, annually, the inevitable snow storm.
Wisconsinites are all-to-familiar with dooms-day predictions of the unstoppable arctic clipper that is bearing down on the State with snowfalls ranging from a few inches to multiple feet. Businesses, schools, and ordinary-life are often forced to cancel events, buses, meetings, and plans, typically before the first flake arrives, and deal with what is understood as a temporary, momentary delay. We then see if the impending doom was accurate or the prediction proved to be inaccurate for an event that is terribly difficult to predict.
So should we, as a society, gird our loins, as it were, because the snow storm is here?
As of this writing, certain areas of this country, as well as the world, would pointedly say “yes”. Other areas of this country, as well as the world, would less pointedly (but possibly) say “no”.
And that same mentality — we don’t know how much snow we’re going to get — has been driving much of the reaction, from a run on toilet paper to a “thou shall not associate with thy neighbor”.
Indeed, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, President Trump held a television press conference advising that airline travel from Europe would stop and less than 24 hours later there was no more toilet paper.
WISCONSIN’S OWN PREDICTION
At the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has continued to update COVID-19 spread in the State. According to the CDC, Wisconsin is identified as having “community transmission” — no indication whether it meets the CDC’s definition of substantial — but clearly states it is in “defined areas”.
If you look at my prior posts, you’ll see some of the commentary around “substantial” and ask this: who decides if there is substantial community transmission, or not, as the CDC, as of now, says the is community transmission in defined areas, without answering whether the transmission is substantial or “minimal to moderate”.
Set aside the CDC for a second. A link on that site brings you to Wisconsin’s governmental equivalent, the Department of Human Services (DHS), where it indicates that the spread of COVID-19 “positives” has been consistent over the last week.
Of course, at least in Wisconsin, as of today, nearly half of the positives have come from Wisconsin’s most populous community, Milwaukee County. So is it spreading? Perhaps one can argue (rightly) that the lack of testing prevents us from knowing the exact extent of spread. This post is accompanied by a map from Wisconsin’s coronavirus website, as seen here.
Looks pretty bad.
The Governor’s Order stated that its implementation was necessary because the virus is everywhere, in every County, and this map makes it look like not only was he mostly right — and that the spread seems to follow the major highways — but that Chicken Little may be upon us.
But wait. If you look at the dots, Milwaukee is big, as it should be. The City has over 600,000 residents. And, as of this writing, of the 707 confirmed positives across the State, 347 have been in Milwaukee (the website doesn’t identify, by County, how many of the 11,583 confirmed negatives were in Milwaukee).
Yet is Milwaukee’s dot 347-times larger on this map than say, Green County, Marathon County, or Portage County, each of which have a dot but only one “positive”. No, it isn’t. Brown County only had four positives, which is the same as Outagamie. If those counties were accurately mapped to-scale, I’m not so sure the dot would be visible to the naked eye for these places.
If you did a map comparing positives and negatives, or even based on population, it may look even more different.
Nor do numbers demonstrate context. Ozaukee County had an issue at a senior citizen residence, with multiple infections. We call this a hotspot. So does the rest of the County need to be on lock-down?
Fond du Lac County, reporting 17 “positives” (again, unknown negatives), had a number of infections tied to a group that returned from travel-abroad. Is this another hotspot or one particular group?
Furthermore, there are some news outlets, including a report from the Wall Street Journal, indicating that the actual numbers relied upon for modeling, as well as the death-predictions themselves, may be off by “orders of magnitude”. So when the Governor has justified “safer at home”, was this based on one particular model, other models, or on expert opinion that was based on modeling?
There is a common saying, which is really a joke, that “60% of statistics are wrong”. While data continues to be analyzed, it would be interesting to know what data has been relied upon in Wisconsin, and whether that data actually supports, or discredits the drastic action inflicted upon the public.
SUPER SIZE ME
Then again, in Wisconsin’s latest response, Governor Evers’s “safer at home” Order is your snow storm prediction on an historic, enormous scale.
The Order is 16 pages long. Despite the emergency label, the order had been in discussion for a number of days, and did not go into effect until 8:00 a.m. on March 25, 2020. The Order is in place until April 24, 2020. The order applies to all of Wisconsin’s residents, ordering everyone to stay at home or at their place of residence, with exceptions.
(For attorneys that have ever dealt with insurance policies, this Order reads that way: everything is covered unless it’s not, subject to exceptions that can restore it to covered.)
Thus, unlike a flu that impacts some, not all, the Order applies equally to everyone, across the State, regardless of community or known-spread of COVID-19.
And unlike a temporary snow storm closure that will last a few days, the Order is for one month (as of now), and is on top of prior closures of schools and businesses that have been in place for days and weeks that pre-dated issuance.
The Order is even more unusual in its justification without specifics.
Compare, for instance, the federal government’s 15-day approach announced around the time of the President’s national address. There, the Presidential task force, empowered weeks before, recommended a 15-day period that would essentially locate the virus, slow transmission, and buy-time in effectuating policy to properly, and logically, address the virus going-forward.
The federal government’s approach doesn’t appear to be the Wisconsin way.
Once again, without specifics, that Order identifies itself as necessary: (1) because “[p]ublic health officials estimate that the actual number of Wisconsinites infected with COVID-19 is significantly higher and likely present in every county in the state”; (2) that “the current growth in the number of people infected, the number of people needing medical care due to COVID-19 will significantly exceed the amount of available healthcare resources”; and (3) the “entire State of Wisconsin – including residents, businesses, community organizations, and government – need to take all possible actions to reduce further spread of COVID-19 to save lives.”
I have seen arguments on both sides. Perhaps the Wisconsin approach is correct, as, if dooms-day prevails, the virus is already in every county (as “estimated” in the Order, by unnamed sources, without specifics, this may be true but is, as of yet, an unverified fact) and there won’t be beds in those counties (without knowing what plans have been made as of now in those communities) and lives will be lost (without identifying the context for that toll).
Then again, perhaps blanket restrictions on the Wisconsin people, on tourism, the economy, and the general health of the population as a whole, would lend itself to a more tailored, transparent and logical approach.
For now, these questions have not been asked, leaving the Order as the law of the land.
And this law will be discussed in my next post.
Jacques C. Condon, Marquette 1999, is owner of Condon Law Firm, LLC, in Thiensville, handling civil litigation, business law, and problem-solving cases ranging on everything from sports and entertainment to local-level government action.