In a press release issued this morning, a dozen Madison Alders and Dane County Council Members expressed their concern over the county’s plans to begin reopening non-essential businesses this week.
In the release, the officials wrote that the move into Phase One of Forward Dane is premature and could result in a spike in COVID-19 cases. They point out that the county has seen steady increases in positive cases and hospitalizations over the past week.
According to Tag Evers, Alder for Madison’s 13th District, the new Forward Dane plan lacks details on how the county will increase its medical infrastructure to cope with future cases.
“There’s no discussion in the order about resources that are being allocated to be sure we can do that requisite amount of contact tracing and case management that a surge might require,” he says.
The letter contains data provided by University of Wisconsin virologist Greg Gelembiuk. According to Gelembiuk, Forward Dane has serious flaws and has, “No valid scientific basis.”
In an email to council members and alders, Gelembiuk wrote that reopening the state now could result in a resurgence of new COVID cases in the coming months. He points to Dane County’s increasing hospitalizations and positive cases as indicators of the early stages of a resurgence
He also says that the county’s criteria for reopening are flawed. He says that the measures recommended by virologists are stricter than Dane County’s proposed plans, and there’s no plan to step back a phase if cases spike. Gelembiuk says that certain venues set to reopen–such as churches and sports facilities–have been hotspots for outbreaks in the past.
In addition to medical and scientific concerns, several Alders and County Council members allege that Public Health Madison and Dane County and the Mayor’s office have not been communicative in their efforts to combat the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway cancelled nearly all in-person City Board and Committee meetings. In the announcement, the Mayor wrote that the City was working to establish proper IT protocol to allow for the committees and board to meet and still take public comment.
According to District 18 Alder Rebecca Kemble, the indefinite cancellation of the meetings effectively removed committees and boards from the decision-making process in Madison’s approach to COVID-19.
“The Board of Public Health has not been engaged at all with this COVID response. All City of Madison boards, commissions and committees are now controlled by the Mayor as to when we can meet,” She says. “The normal way that policy makers and the public can engage and inform these major policies would be through those meetings. But those meetings have not been happening.”
But, according to County Board Chair Analiese Eicher, public health officials have been in contact with board members, on an individual basis. Eicher and City Council President Sheri Carter issued a rebuttal to the letter critiquing the county’s COVID response this morning.
Eicher says that, by issuing the letter only a few hours before Phase One was set to begin, the co-signers could impede public health officials from adequately carrying out their jobs.
“I know myself and others on the county board have asked public health a number of questions and received answers in a timely manner. I question the timing [of the letter] when it comes to a matter of public health and misinformation,” she says. “That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be asking questions, we absolutely should. But as elected leaders we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to communicating with the public.”
Eicher says that the concerned board members have had almost a week to voice their complaints with Phase One, since Forward Dane was announced last week.
For the past week, the county has been in Forward Dane’s “Preparation Phase.” During the preparation phase, non-essential businesses and retailers were allowed to operate in very limited capacities.
Now, in Phase One, all non-essential businesses are allowed to operate at 25% capacity. The new phase also allows public gatherings of up to 50 people and reopens tennis courts and other city park amenities.
Editor’s Note: Public Health Madison and Dane County released a response to the council members’ letter shortly after the deadline for this story. The complete response from PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich can be found here.
(Photo c/o PHMDC)