Cracks in the dike.

How do you enforce the rules when the people in charge of enforcement don’t want to enforce?

The other day, I wrote that the sheriff of Racine County, down in southeast Wisconsin, had announced that his department will not be forcing the county’s citizens to comply with Governor Tony Evers’ recently-extended “safer at home” edict. Evers’ original restrictions were scheduled to expire on April 24, which is tomorrow. But last week, he unilaterally extended them another 32 days, until May 26, the day after Memorial Day.

The reaction was swift and not necessarily worshipful. Besides the Racine County sheriff, the sheriff of Polk County, which is next door to us up here (we live in the northeast corner of Barron County), has followed suit. I have heard unofficially that several more, especially up here in the relatively-clean northern counties, are prepared to join their ranks.

In the meantime, there will be a rally in Madison, the state capital, tomorrow, and it could be big.

 

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(Photo by madison.com)

 

The organizers say they will go forward even though they don’t have a permit. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess how the Madison police will handle this. Nobody is anticipating that Evers will order any kind of crackdown; it would be the Madison mayor’s call, anyway.

The leaders of the state legislature have filed suit against Evers to block his extension of “safer at home.” This has drawn nationwide attention, with the news media quick to point out that Evers is a Democrat and the legislature’s leadership in both houses is Republican–no doubt to cast the story in a partisan light, even if there might be nothing partisan about it. There’s no word yet on when, or even if, our state Supreme Court will rule on the case. Earlier this week, Evers rolled out his Badger Bounce Back plan to re-open the state, following guidelines announced several days earlier by the Trump Administration. My first thought: when did they come up with this plan? Why didn’t the governor announce it right away last week, when he extended the restrictions? He didn’t even say, “Hang tight, folks, we’re working on a detailed plan and we’ll have it for you in a few days.” Although the plan doesn’t appear to be one of those done-on-the-fly things that might have been expected if it was rushed as a reaction to the push-back, the timing sure is indicative of that being the case.

Also, the plan doesn’t appear to address the reality that most of the state is doing pretty well, and would therefore be ready to open individual counties’ economies earlier than the harder-hit Milwaukee and Madison metros. But, as usual, the politicians have placed the needs of those metros above the rest of us. And trust me, this is something that just adds to the slow burn we up-staters have felt about our downstate, big-city brethren for a long time. It’s a feeling shared by northern Minnesotans, from what I’m told, and doubtless people in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and upstate New York and western Massachusetts have similar feelings about how things are done in their states.

 

When the knock comes at your door…

The rather troubling thing about increasing government authority is that things can easily get out of hand, and they usually do. I noted in my previous post about cases of people in other parts of the country being arrested by law enforcement for violating their states’ restrictions on public gatherings. It’s happening all over the country: Arrested for Defying the Virus.

Here in Wisconsin, a teenager was threatened with arrest for–get ready–posting on Instagram: Teen first amendment threat.

Every day, we are seeing stories of restaurant owners and gym operators declaring that they will open to the public well in advance of May 26. A greenhouse near us has sent out mailers to past customers, letting them know that they will be open as of next week. Another area greenhouse is opening May 1 and taking appointments for earlier, one-on-one visits from gardeners who are eager to get their gardens and flowers planted. (My wife is among their number.)

 

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Will Wisconsin gardeners be subject to arrest? We’ll find out pretty soon.

 

Not every Wisconsinite outside the governor’s office is pleased about the state’s rapidly-burgeoning rebellion against “safer at home”: Clergy pushing back. Like one of the clergymen mentioned in the article, a lot of the anti-pushback folks believe that the effort is really a nefarious plot to push a political agenda, whether that be a pro-gun or pro-Trump or pro-whatever motivation. In other words, those of our citizenry who are questioning the wisdom of the governor’s edict, and expressing serious concern for our state’s economic future, are really just lemmings being whipped into a frenzy by insidious forces. The funny thing is, when massive protests roiled Madison in 2011 to try to force the legislature to overturn its Act 10 that cut back on public employee bargaining rights, nobody was allowed to question those folks’ sincerity, or to suggest that they were merely pawns in the clutches of out-of-state pro-union activists.

 

What are the numbers telling us?

On April 7, we had an election here in the state, ordered to take place as scheduled by the state Supreme Court after the governor had announced, the day before, that it would be moved. There were dire predictions that having all those people show up at polling places would cause a huge spike in the virus infection numbers across Wisconsin. It would show up in a week or two, we were told, and we would pay a terrible price. Well, guess what?  It didn’t happen.

This month, I’ve been posting a weekly look at how the IHME model has changed, indicating that the curve is flattening both nationwide and here in Wisconsin. Here’s the comparison of the model’s most relevant numbers from April 1 and then three weeks later:

U.S.                                                     4/1              4/22

Hospital resource peak day          4/15            4/17

Daily deaths peak day                    4/15            4/15

Deaths on peak day                        2644           2671

Date of last death                            7/14            6/26

Total deaths by 8/4                         93,531        65,976

 

Wisconsin                                        4/1               4/22

Hospital resource peak day           4/27             4/11

Daily deaths peak day                     4/27             4/5

Deaths on peak day                          25                 20

Date of last death                              6/10             5/12

Total deaths by 8/4                           951               340

 

As we can see by the dates I’ve italicized, some of these benchmarks are already behind us, both here and across the country. We saw rather drastic improvement in the numbers from the model as posted on April 1 as compared with two weeks later, and in the week since then there’s been some movement, but not much. Again, I’m no statistician, but it seems intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, as my old high school math teacher would’ve said, that things are flattening out.

But more than 60,000 dead is nothing to cheer about, especially if you or a loved one is one of them. It’s certainly a better number than 90,000-plus, but people are not mere numbers. Every death from this virus is a tragedy, and the victim’s survivors will always wonder if more could have been done, not just by that person but by his or her family and neighbors and community, to prevent that loss. And that’s something that can be said for an untimely death by any cause, really. An acquaintance of mine, about my age, passed away on March 1, and just yesterday a mutual friend and I were talking about him. This late friend of ours was never tested for the virus, and had a number of other serious health problems, including cancer and diabetes. But could it have been possible that he actually had COVID-19 and that’s what pushed him over the final edge? We may never know. If he had indeed been infected, then the question is, how long might he had lived if he hadn’t been? That, too, is something that can never be known. Maybe a long time, but considering everything else that was afflicting him, probably not.

As we know, the virus is severely impacting those among us who are already in tough shape, physically speaking. The older you are, the more underlying medical issues you’re dealing with, the greater the risk that you will not be able to shake off the infection. The handful of people reportedly infected here in Barron County have already recovered, we’re told. We don’t know their ages or whatever their original state of health might have been, but we are thankful that they’re in the clear. We had the election up here on April 7, too, and we haven’t seen a spike in cases, despite the dire warnings. For that, we’re thankful.

There is much to be thankful for in this whole situation, believe it or not. We are finding out that when the chips are down, as I wrote in an earlier post, people are doing what needs to be done. Like the other times our nation has faced a great threat, the American people have responded. We are getting the job done. We are not letting the doomsayers and skeptics get us down, and there will always be those. Ninety years ago, they were the ones telling us that our democratic system would not be able to deal with the Great Depression and communism was on its way in. Eighty years ago they were the ones telling us that we should start learning to speak Japanese or German because they were on the way here. Fifty-five years ago they were the ones telling us that the divide between the races was so great that another civil war was imminent. And eighteen years ago they were saying that a “war of the civilizations” was upon us and terrorists would be setting off nukes in our cities next week.

But we are also seeing that Americans hold something near and dear to them, perhaps even more precious than life itself, and that is freedom. That doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater or anything like that. It means being reasonable about things, being cautious when caution is called for, but not just mindlessly doing what we’re told to do, when it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we don’t need to be doing that anymore, or at least to the extent we once did. We are saying that it’s not necessary to destroy our economy in order to destroy every last offensive microbe. There has to be something there for us on the other side.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the day when my gym is open, when I can swim at the Rice Lake pool, when I can sit down at the coffee shop and chat with people, when my wife and I can go out to a restaurant rather than just pick up take-out at the door. I’m looking forward to going to a movie theater and I’m really looking forward to joining my son at a baseball game. All of that is coming, and it’s coming soon.

In the meantime, I’m betting that we’ll be seeing a lot of these in Madison and around the state tomorrow:

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