After much pressure, Governor Evers collaborated with his staff and a couple of Democratic mega-donors to announce a vague reopening plan that is subject to changes. Great.
Taking the plan at face value, it has a few good elements. More testing, better tracking, etc. These are good things that should continue to be done even if the economy is completely open again. With all of that, here are the criteria by which we will allegedly begin to reopen the economy:
SYMPTOMS: Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period AND downward trajectory of COVID-19-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period
CASES: Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period
HOSPITALS: Treat all patients without crisis care AND Robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers, with decreasing numbers of infected healthcare workers
Here are the problems with these criteria: first, they are subject to manipulation and interpretation. For example, the criteria that we reach a “Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.” That is very dependent on the who, and how many, are being tested. For example, if we do random testing or test an entire city (as some others have done), then the percentage of positive tests might be driven down. If we restrict testing to just those who are already showing symptoms, then the percentage might rise. Without a uniform testing criteria, longitudinal data is irrelevant.
Second, notice that Evers moved the goal post. Originally, we had to shut down the economy to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm our healthcare system. Our system is not overwhelmed, thankfully. It’s not even close. If the goal is to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system, then we’ve accomplished that. Hooray. So when it comes to reopening the economy, we could do that as long as we continue to manage to our healthcare system’s capacity. In other words, the number of infected could remain unchanged or even increase and our healthcare system would still be able to handle it. By setting the benchmark at a sustained decrease of cases, Evers is proposing to just keep the lockdown going indefinitely even when our healthcare system is perfectly capable of handling the case load. Which brings us to the third problem…
Evers’ plan does not give any certainty. As designed, he would reopen the economy in stages, but might wrench it back to lockdown if the trend changes. This kind of uncertainty makes it virtually impossible for businesses to actually reopen. What business is going to buy inventory, hire workers, sign contracts, etc. when they could be shut down again next week? What restaurant is going to risk buying a cooler full of fresh food if they might have to let it rot again? What manufacturing facility is going to sign delivery contracts with customers when they don’t know if they will be able to deliver product? Business owners need some degree of certainty that the reopening will be sustained before they stick their necks out again.
Then there are the phases. They are ridiculous and vague. They are still subject to massive interpretation that will undoubtedly be “clarified” by the governor as he sees fit. Essential? Maybe. It depends on how Tony is feeling today. He didn’t make any distinction between a barber shop, for example, and a manufacturing plant that may have 100 people who are all much more than 6 feet away from each other.
Finally, one of the fundamental flaws of this plan is that it continues to be a one-size-fits-all. He even addresses it in the first part:
These metrics will be applied on a statewide basis as this highly infectious virus knows no county boundaries and can easily spread from regions with high prevalence to regions with low prevalence.
True, but the plan also means that if there is an outbreak in a prison or a single neighborhood, for example, Evers might revert back to a more stringent lockdown throughout the state. It doesn’t make any sense to shut down restaurants in Hudson when there is an outbreak in Racine. Evers continues to view the state through his Madison lens where every town is just like the next one.
Evers issued a plan. Sort of. No dates. No certainty. Subject to manipulation. And still guided by the arbitrary decisions of a tyrant in Madison. In other words… nothing has changed.