Dane County's COVID-19 plan cautious and confusing
Dane County's COVID-19 plan cautious and confusing

Dane County's COVID-19 plan cautious and confusing

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So much for Wisconsin being in this COVID-19 fight together.

While most of the state can do what it wants in the absence of statewide rules limiting public gatherings and business, Dane County remains in a slowly loosening lockdown.

It’s a shame the usual partisan fights had to quickly infect the state’s response to this pandemic. Dane County and a few other jurisdictions are now being challenged in court over their local restrictions, following a state Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Evers administration’s “safer at home” orders.

The result is a confusing patchwork of public health policy directed at a virus that doesn’t respect the borders of communities.

We urge — again — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and top Republican lawmakers to try to work together on reasonable, uniform rules limiting people from packing into bars, restaurants and other places, to prevent the spread of this novel and potentially deadly respiratory disease.

In the absence of state cooperation and leadership, Dane County is now an island of strict regulation. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced Friday he plans to move the county into the first of four phases — each of them lasting at least two weeks — for reopening. The county’s “Forward Dane” plan expands the criteria Evers had used to measure progress.

We respect the thoughtfulness Parisi and Janel Heinrich, the director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, have shown in drafting their plan. It will allow bars, restaurants, gyms, retail stores, salons and other businesses deemed nonessential to operate at 25% of capacity starting Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the Dane County plan appears to open the economy slower than what the Democratic governor would have allowed. And it provides less clarity and hope for a return to something approaching normal.

For example, Heinrich told the State Journal editorial board on Friday that Dane County’s indicators for progress had already met the criteria needed to enter Phase 2 of the “Forward Dane” plan. Yet the county is sticking to Phase 1 for two weeks, which is the time COVID-19 infections can take to develop.

Why not count the past two weeks as progress toward Phase 2 instead?

We understand the need for caution to prevent a sharp increase in cases. But that concern must be weighed against the livelihoods of small business people and the larger economy. Some restaurant and bar owners say they can’t justify opening until they are allowed 50% capacity, which Phase 2 grants. In the meantime, rent and other expenses pile up.

Other oddities in “Forward Dane” include the ability of schools to open in Phase 2, bringing hundreds of students under the same roof. Yet the plan could forbid a small youth sports team from practicing outside indefinitely. And offices with responsible adults would still be limited to 50% capacity in Phase 2.

Parisi and Heinrich suggest a COVID-19 vaccine may be necessary before the county would enter the final phase of its plan. But that could take years, which doesn’t provide hope for an end to this crisis.

Dane County may prove wiser than most of the rest of Wisconsin if cases surge elsewhere and not here. Yet Dane County must be flexible and change course if the opposite occurs — if other counties avoid outbreaks by trusting their citizens to follow sensible guidelines.

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