Plan would take into account regional risk factors and let consumers decide

By David Fladeboe for the Badger Institute

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s chamber of commerce, unveiled a plan Friday that would allow businesses to open while providing consumers with information that would help them gauge the risk of visiting individual establishments. WMC officials said the goal is to start the process of re-opening the state while giving hope to Wisconsin businesses on the brink of failure and employees struggling to make ends meet.

Gov. Tony Evers’ decision last week to extend the state “Safer at Home” shutdown until May 26 raised concerns that the one-size-fits-all approach could prove ruinous for Wisconsin employees, businesses and the state economy. Under Evers’ extension, the same restrictions apply to Milwaukee and Madison as they do to Wausau and Iron River, even though the virus appears to be having little impact in many northern and rural communities.

“In most of Wisconsin, the economic crisis caused by the Safer at Home order has now, or will very soon, eclipse the public health crisis,” said WMC President Kurt Bauer. “WMC’s Back to Business plan takes a tactical approach to opening Wisconsin’s economy, while safeguarding people’s health. We must protect lives, but we must also protect livelihoods. This plan does both.”

At the core of the WMC plan is a rating system where a business can enter a few key data points onto the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website. The portal will, in turn, provide a green (minimal), yellow (moderate) or red (substantial) rating based on the population density, infection rate, health care capacity and interactive concentration (how likely are you to come in contact with others) of that area.

Each of the ratings comes with levels of restrictions laid out by the Centers for Disease Control. A red rating may limit seating capacity and require masks and gloves, while a green rating would have fewer restrictions.

Forty-five out of 72 Wisconsin counties (62.5%) have 10 or fewer diagnosed cases of COVID-19, according to the DHS website. According to data on the site Friday morning, seven counties – Burnett, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, Pepin, Taylor and Vernon – have had no cases at all. Forty of the 72 counties have had no reported deaths and another 17 have reported one death.

The WMC plan is based on the premise that a hair salon in Rhinelander won’t pose the same risk to the public as a crowded restaurant in Milwaukee.

And just as no one policy fits all regions or businesses, individuals are affected differently by the virus. A 25-year-old with no underlying conditions may feel more comfortable in an establishment with a yellow or red rating than a seventy-year-old with COPD.

Advantages of this approach, according to the WMC, include the simplicity of the model for both businesses and consumers, the provision of industry-specific risk factors, steps that businesses can take to protect employees and customers, and that fact that it can be customized, in contrast to the current one-size-fits all approach.

David Fladeboe is a Badger Institute public affairs associate.

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