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Capital City Sunday: Speaker Vos, Gov. Evers on hospitalizations, contact tracing and inaction on COVID-19 relief

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Governor Tony Evers and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have not agreed on much during this pandemic, but both are open to an additional field hospital.

Gov. Evers says he looking to open smaller regional alternative care facilities across the state as health care workers say some patients don't want to transfer to the site in West Allis because it too far away.

"We're working to set that up," Evers said. "We're hoping to set some up closer to home for people to feel comfortable."

This comes after the leader of the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) pleaded with Evers and state legislative leaders to come together immediately to fight the virus before the current crisis becomes a catastrophe.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is also open to an additional care facility but worries about funding and staffing as hospitals are already dealing with shortages.

"I'm certainly open to the idea," he said. "Staffing is the biggest issue when someone gets sick and then they have to quarantine and if we open another facility we still have to staff that."

To help with a shortage of staff at hospitals, Evers said he recently signed a contract to have out-of-state health care workers come work in Wisconsin.

"In good times hospitals have a hard time finding staff and everyone is competing, we are competing as well as will continue to find ways to help our hospitals."

Governor Evers did not provide any additional details on the contract but said he's also in conversations with UW System President Tommy Thompson to encourage nursing students who are on winter break to work at health care facilities.

Shortage of Contact Tracers

Republicans and Democrats have critized Gov. Evers for a lack of contact tracers in the state as coronavirus cases skyrocket, nearly shattering records daily in new infections.

Speaker Vos and Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan believe the Evers administration failed to hire enough staff top health officials call critical in tracking the spread of the virus.

When asked why there's a statewide shortage of contact tracers, Evers said it's not just a Wisconsin problem there's a shortage nationwide.

"There’s just not enough people to go around and we are trying to do everything we can that is feasible including looking at having contracts with special organizations so we can contract that out,” he said.

The governor claims they been hiring additional staff for months but noted the difficulty of the job is part of the reason it's been hard to retain staff.

Some contact tracers have been harassed, others receive death threats when they call to ask someone to self-isolate, according to the Wisconsin Nurses Association.

"When we hire people, they get harassed by people they are trying to help and they quit,” said Evers.

Thousands of people applied early on in the pandemic to become contact tracers but many were inexperienced, fired, or resigned due to the difficulty of the job, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Inaction on a COVID-19 Relief Plan

After months without meeting to discuss how the state should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tony Evers and Republican leaders met on Friday marking the first step toward tackling the surge in coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Gov. Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Senate Majority Leader-elect David LeMahieu met to negotiate COVID-19 related bills introduced by Evers and initiatives Assembly Republicans announced last week.

"Between the three of us, there was no shouting or screaming we were answering questions and were looking forward to a solution soon," said Evers.

Evers put forward a package of 19 bills totaling in $541 million to bolster various parts of Wisconsin's pandemic response.

Assembly Republicans, led by Vos, came out with their own list of ideas, but have not yet turned those into actionable legislation.

There’s only been one bill passed this year when lawmakers and the governor approved measures in response to the pandemic. When asked if Vos believes he should still deserve a full-time paycheck, he argued it takes time to pass comprehensive legislation.

“The idea that we are going to be able to just find simple solutions to very complex, long term problems isn't really fair,” Vos said.

COVID-19 Restrictions

Gov. Evers extended his mask mandate until January and issued another public health emergency order even though Republicans are currently in court challenging his face-covering requirement.

Speaker Vos said he doesn't support mandates requiring Wisconsinites to do something and instead believes people can make their best judgment when to wear a mask.

“It doesn't have to be the heavy hand of government thinking that people are too stupid to follow the guidelines themselves,” he said.

Vos also doesn’t support additional restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and criticized Dane County's public health order limiting large gatherings and implementing capacity limits at bars and restaurants, saying these orders are part of the reason some don't take the virus as seriously.

“If we had taken the virus seriously, but not gone to such draconian measures in the spring, you would probably have an awful lot more people who say, wow, the virus is more serious…. so now we treat it more seriously.”

Governor Evers has issued a handful of emergency orders to help curb the spread of the virus, but most of them end up in court.

When asked why not issue more orders, even if they are challenged by Republicans to be in place in the meantime, Evers referenced his emergency order placing limits on mass gatherings which was active for a few days until a judge put a temporary hold on it.

"The M.O. of people who don't like this is to keep it moving in the courts...but we never say never," said Evers.

Recount, Election Results

Speaker Vos stopped short of accepting the results of the presidential election which Joe Biden leads President Trump by more than 20,000 votes in Wisconsin. He instead wants to see the results of the recount first and claimed, without evidence, there could be multiple cases of fraud. 

“We go through our process to guarantee that fraud and mismanagement did not occur in the election, and frankly, I don't think that it did in most cases, then Joe Biden will be our president, but it's way too early to tell,” Vos said.

The Trump campaign, who filed for the recount, claims there were "the worst irregularities" in Dane and Milwaukee county during the election, but so far there's been no evidence of fraud or illegal activity.

The wide variety of claims by the Trump campaign include issues with voters indefinitely confined, which doesn't require them to show a photo ID. However, this is an exception and state election officials argue many times indefinitely voters already have had to show their ID in a previous election.

“Many people check that box and I'm certain have left their house since they did so in April, that's a felony," Vos said.

The Wisconsin Republican Party sued the Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell in March over advice he posted on his Facebook page telling voters they can declare themselves indefinitely confined because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually ordered McDonell to stop telling voters about this guidance because it did not match up with the statue created by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Speaker Vos said he's considering making changes to state law to alter the definition of indefinitely confined.

"That's one area where there could be a potential need for some sort of legislative remedy because people are committing a crime, and it seems like they're not being prosecuted.”

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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