Wisconsin (April 17, 2020) – State of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and his regional colleagues in the Upper Midwest are working together to judge when best to start easing stay-at-home restrictions and reopen their states’ economies.
Today, the coalition becomes official, with Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear all signing on to a multistate pact.
The seven Midwest governors said in a statement announcing the coalition: “We are doing everything we can to protect the people of our states and slow the spread of COVID-19, and we are eager to work together to mitigate the economic crisis this virus has caused in our region. Here in the Midwest, we are bound by our commitment to our people and the community. We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet.”
The statement says the states will “closely examine” at least four factors before reopening. The factors include “sustained control” of the rate of new infections and hospitalizations; enhanced ability to test and trace; “sufficient health care capacity” to handle any resurgence; and “best practices” for social distancing.
The statement seems to go out of its way to underline that state CEOs, and not someone else, will decide what’s right for their residents, and that health will be the top consideration.
The states “will work in close coordination to reopen our economies in a way that prioritizes our workers’ health,” the joint statement says. “We look forward to working with experts and taking a fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19.”
The statement says reopening portions of the economy at different times—perhaps in different sections of states—is a possibility.
“But close coordination will ensure we get this right,” the statement says. “Over time, people will go back to work, restaurants will reopen and things will go back to normal. We look forward to working together as one region to tackle this challenge together.”
The seven-state coalition brings together states that share industrial and agricultural roots but still have wide cultural and political differences. Of the seven governors, five are Democrats: Pritzker, Michigan’s Whitmer, Wisconsin’s Evers, Minnesota’s Walz and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear. Two are Republicans: DeWine in Ohio and Holcomb in Indiana.
The deal was announced as pressure is building in some areas relatively free of the coronavirus to turn the focus on economic issues, something Trump in particular has pushed.
The states generally show signs of flattening the growth in COVID-related cases and deaths—both J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot say they see that happening—but the situation varies from state to state and within states.
Officials have responded to critics by asserting that reopening too early risks setting off another wave of infections and undoing all the good that has been done by keeping most people at home.
Meantime, Gov. Evers has extended Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order to May 26. At his daily briefing yesterday, Gov. Pritzker described the Midwest deal as “a formal partnership” to work together. The decisions made by each of the seven states will not necessarily be identical.
What’s most important is that the states have agreed to use “similar criteria” in making decisions about reopening their economies and to act to “protect workers and customers” when they do, Pritzker said.
Iowa, Illinois’ neighbor to the west, “chose not to be a part” of the partnership, Pritzker said, noting it’s the only state in the region that has not issued a stay-home order. Reuters reports the governors of Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota also declined to join the partnership, citing a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified. Of those, only Missouri has issued a stay-at-home order.
The bulk of the governor’s briefing focused on testing for COVID-19, with good news on both the availability of tests and of needed equipment. Pritzker said Massachusetts-based medical device producer Thermo Fisher Scientific now has five machines fully online that were inoperative last week. They will be able to produce thousands of tests a day by next week. Problems obtaining swabs and other materials needed to get maximum use out testing equipment appear also to be resolved.