Wineke: Let’s not reopen the Wisconsin economy just yet

A photo of State Street

MADISON, Wis. — A couple of headlines in the morning paper illustrate the dilemma posed by demonstrations around the country demanding that states reopen their economies and end shelter-in-place regulations.

One says “Hospitals focus of vitriol” and describes some of the conspiracy theories and claims underlying those demonstrations.

The other notes that “Baraboo helps testing” and explains that Teel Plastics in Baraboo is one of two companies in the world capable of making the little plastic swab sticks used in the tests to determine whether a person has the COVID-19 virus.

If that’s true – and there is no reason to doubt the claim’s validity – then we really have to hope that the virus doesn’t gain a foothold among the Teel Plastics work force.

I have no personal knowledge of the Baraboo company. I expect it is doing what it can to keep its employees healthy.

But for those who claim with such confidence that the “cure” for the virus – namely social distancing and Safer at Home restrictions on nonessential commerce – is worse than the disease, those two headlines ought to be somewhat sobering.

President Donald Trump keeps telling us that some rural states don’t have much of a COVID-19 problem and that those states, therefore, should open their economies and let their residents resume normal lives.

Last week, he brought Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in front of cameras to assure us that the U.S. has plenty of food and that the food supply is “strong, resilient and safe.”

It was about that time when we learned that meat processing plants in South Dakota and Iowa were shutting down because the virus was sweeping through their workforces. Smithfield Foods in Cudahy is also closed for a couple of weeks.

Now self-styled patriots, egged on by Republican leaders of our legislature, are demanding that Wisconsin end its restrictions on public gatherings and reopen its closed businesses.

Really?

Chicago currently has one of the major outbreaks in the country of the COVID-19 virus. Our Wisconsin resort communities depend greatly on Chicago summer visitors. You can put two and two together. That’s why it is a good thing that Wisconsin and Illinois are working in tandem on these problems.

Look, I understand some of the problems. My dad ran a bar and restaurant in Barneveld for many years. He and my stepmother worked 16-hour days to make the place a success. All over this state people have invested their lives in similar businesses and now face ruin.

We do have to reopen our economy.

But to do that, we need widespread testing to help people feel safe enough to actually patronize those businesses we want to reopen.

Testing kits don’t work without those little plastic sticks. The little plastic sticks are made in Baraboo.

Maybe we should err on the side of caution.