On Wednesday, May 13, the Douglas County Board will consider whether to support a plan that would take a regional approach to reopening businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the Back to Business plan developed by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services would provide a form on its website to determine what steps a business would need to take to reopen. Companies would provide their name, county of operation and the six digit North American Industry Classification System code for the business.
The platform would automatically use four factors to determine the level of risk for the specific business based on the infection rate and population density of the county, interactive concentration of the business and the health care capacity and utilization in the county.
By using this data-driven algorithm, Wisconsin businesses could open in a safe and strategic manner, according to plan documents.
“Why wouldn’t you support it?” County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert asked on Friday, May 8. “There’s, I think, 49 cases of the virus north of Chippewa County … Why are we being treated the same as Green Bay or Eau Claire or Milwaukee or Dane County?”
At the time the plan was written, 48% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases were in Milwaukee County.
As of May 11, Milwaukee County only accounted for 39% of total cases in the state after a surge in cases in Brown County in late April. Combined, Brown and Milwaukee counties accounted for 57% of the 10,418 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.
Northern Wisconsin’s experience with the new coronavirus has been different from counties in the southern part of the state where infection rates run much higher. Of the 26 counties that are all or partially in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, 224 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed as of Monday, May 11, resulting in 10 deaths. Statewide, 409 deaths were reported.
The average rate of infection was 26 per 100,000 within the 7th District, compared to an infection rate of 740 per 100,000 in Brown County and 421 per 100,000 in Milwaukee County, according to DHS figures. Douglas County’s rate of infection was slightly higher than the average at 25 per 100,000.
Liebaert said there were efforts before Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home order was implemented to evaluate each county that were unsuccessful.
“We’ve destroyed so much of the business community that needs this time of the year to succeed,” Liebaert said. “I don’t know how we recover from that.”
A measure to support the plan will go before the board at its meeting on Wednesday, May 13 at 6 p.m. The Board meets by teleconference at 917-789-5439, meeting PIN 223 823 787#. Meetings are livestreamed at douglascountywi.org/civicmedia or channel 180 on Charter Spectrum cable.
Liebaert said he was optimistic the Board would adopt the measure.
“I thought it was a commonsense approach,” Liebaert said.