County administrator addresses COVID-19 testing, economy, and more

by Robert Sivick

Waushara County

Administrator

Many Americans perceive the beginning of World War II as December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  The war actually began more than 27 months earlier on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.  Between the invasion of Poland and Pearl Harbor the war raged on three continents without direct American involvement.

The reason America sat out the war’s early years was a deep political difference regarding this country’s role in international conflict.  There were Americans who felt the United States should enter the war on behalf of Europe’s democracies and those who believed the war was not worth the loss of life and treasure.  Those political differences evaporated once America was attacked by Japan.  We saw a similar response after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Despite the COVID-19 crisis being likened to war, our country has not experienced the unity brought by past national threats and emergencies.

As I write this during the evening of Monday, April 20th, COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in this country.  In less than two months the virus has claimed more than forty thousand American lives, a number in excess of our countrymen killed during the Korean War.  Within days and perhaps by the time you read this, COVID-19 will have killed more Americans than lost in Vietnam.

In addition to the loss of life, is vast damage the crisis has done to our economy.  I believe that is the root cause of conflict and a lack of American unity.  We must acknowledge the real suffering of millions of Americans suddenly unemployed and worried about the economic survival of themselves and their families.  I hear from these folks who point to low rates of infection and death in rural Wisconsin and are angry social and economic restrictions prevent them from returning to work or operating their businesses.  I think it important to review why these restrictions cannot be lifted as rapidly as we would all like.

1. As an intellectual exercise, I understand the cold logic in reopening the economy and letting the disease quickly run its course.  However, such a policy would mean numerous deaths of the very old, the very young, and the medically compromised.  Even though those deaths would constitute only a small fraction of total population, the vast majority of us recoil at such a cavalier attitude towards loss of life.  If you are religious, you know every person is a child of God and not livestock to be slaughtered.  Even if you are not religious, we all know such a policy is profoundly immoral regardless of economic benefit.

2. Reopening Waushara County and its economy is not presently possible as the County’s authority does not supersede the State of Wisconsin.  Additionally, low numbers of infection here are the result of residents overwhelmingly following social distancing and personal hygienic guidelines.  Maintaining those low numbers are not guaranteed as our County is not an island.

Although many residents are unemployed, many more continue to work and do so elsewhere.  Waushara is a commuter county with people on the east side going to work in Oshkosh and the Fox Cities and those on the west traveling north on I-39 to Wisconsin Rapids, Plover, and Stevens Point.  With that traffic and the fact almost everything you buy in stores is produced and transported from elsewhere, we cannot wall ourselves off in the false belief it will protect us.  Our best bet is to remain disciplined and continue preventative health practices serving us well.

3. Despite differences of opinion, one thing everyone agrees on is we will not be able to safely reopen our economy until we greatly expand testing.  That would allow us to determine the extent of contagion, isolate those infected, and allow those already exposed to the disease to return to work.  The only entity with the resources and logistical muscle to quickly test more than 300 million people is the United States government.

As someone who always lights a candle rather than curse the darkness, I made use of a personal phone call Monday afternoon from Representative Glenn Grothman to state Waushara County’s case and request Federal assistance.  Just hours later, Congressman Grothman was on his way back to Washington to attend to Waushara County’s needs as well as those of all Americans.

Finally, despite conflicting messages coming from Washington or Madison you can be rest assured Waushara County’s elected leaders and appointed managers will deliver consistent factual information to residents.  We all know that is the only way we can be well informed allowing us to conquer this terrible disease.  Stay safe, remain united, and let’s keep each other in our prayers.