WMC’s Back to Business Plan: Common Council sends ‘letters of support’ to Evers, legislators
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
TOMAHAWK – The City of Tomahawk Common Council unanimously voted during its Tuesday, May 5 meeting to send letters to Governor Tony Evers, Rep. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Rob Swearingen expressing the council’s support for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)’s Back to Business Plan.
“Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the largest and most influential business association in the state, working to make Wisconsin the best place in the nation to do business,” states the association’s website, www.wmc.com. “We are the state chamber of commerce, state manufacturers’ association and state safety council. WMC is also affiliated with WMC Foundation, which runs programs including the Future Wisconsin Project and Wisconsin Business World.”
The business lobbying group introduced the Back to Business Plan on April 24, the same day Wisconsin’s original Safer at Home order was set to expire. The plan, which can be found at www.wmc.org/backtobusiness, takes a county-focused approach to reopening the state’s economy, citing “trusted data from public health regulators and medical professionals.”
“For example, there is a much higher risk of spreading the infection at a barber or hair salon in Milwaukee County than there is at a barber or hair salon in Vernon County,” the plan says. “In simple terms, the risk factors associated with doing the same activity in two different places are vastly different due to infection rates and population density.”
The plan also draws contrasts between businesses and the risk factors they pose.
“Different businesses have different concentrations of people interacting in close proximity to each other,” the plan states. “For example, attending a concert is likely a higher risk for Wisconsinites than working in an office with cubicles separating workers. Drinking a beer after work with friends at a bar, furthermore, is likely a higher risk than working in a manufacturing facility where there is little interaction with others. The risks are different, but they are also manageable. The key is to manage them correctly to ensure workers and customers are protected. That is the essence of this plan.”
According to the plan, Wisconsin businesses would be able use an algorithm created by WMC to “quickly and simply determine their risk level, and understand what precautions they must take to safely reopen.”
Under the plan, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) would provide a form online based on the plan’s model. To determine what steps would need to be taken to reopen, a business would provide its company name, county, and six-digit NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code. After the form is submitted, the platform would use four factors to determine the company’s level of risk: infection rate in county of operation, population density in county of operation, interactive concentration (based on NAICS code business sector), and healthcare capacity/utilization in county of operation.
“Companies would be given a risk factor of minimal, moderate or substantial based on an in-depth analysis of more than 300 NAICS codes and various data points from public health sources,” WMC states. “The higher the risk, the more precautions businesses would be required to take to avoid further spread of COVID-19.”
Those precautions include, but are not limited to, “social distancing among employees and customers, operating at reduced capacity, increasing use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and stepping up cleaning procedures.”
WMC claims that by using the algorithm, businesses in the state could open “in a safe and strategic manner,” adding that since the platform “relies on readily available government health data,” it can be updated daily in real time.
“As portions of Wisconsin slow their infection rates, more businesses could begin to operate with fewer restrictions,” WMC says. “On the other hand, if there is an outbreak or sudden increase in infection rates, businesses in that area would have to operate on stricter guidelines. The model adapts to changing public health conditions to either dial-up or dial-down businesses’ safety requirements – a nimble approach not found in other plans.”
Common Council’s “letters of support”
A copy of a letter sent to Felzkowski’s office calls the plan “the first credible plans (sic) we have seen.”
“We fear without our small business re-opening we may not have them after the pandemic ends,” the letter, signed by Mayor Steven E. Taskay and Council President Jeff Kahle, says. “The Council agreed that small business in our rural area can handle the amount of traffic while maintaining social distancing and a healthy environment. Small rural communities should not be compared to larger urban areas or held to the same restrictions as more densely populated areas.”
Health Department’s Hersil comments on plan
NOTE: Lincoln County Health Department Health Officer Shelley Hersil discussed the Back to Business plan post-press time, so her comments will not be featured in the May 13 print issue of the Tomahawk Leader.
Lincoln County Health Department Health Officer Shelley Hersil offered her view on WMC’s plan, noting that health officials focus more on the issue as a statewide health crisis, while the plan is more county-focused.
“We really do not look at population density per county as an indicator to reopen business,” Hersil stated. “We really focus on the percentage of disease, which is an agreeable portion of the WMC plan. I think this needs to be looked at at least minimally as a region of the state vs. each individual county. What one county does affects the other counties in our state.”
Hersil said public health “doesn’t consider density of interaction within the organization/business as a factor to open up the business,” but it does restrict these interactions in the case of a present disease.
Hersil stated that on 1.3% of Lincoln County residents have been tested for COVID-19, and increasing testing would help health officials know whether or not COVID-19 is more prevalent in the county.
“We only will know if people get tested,” she said. “We are hoping to address all barriers with regards to testing. As of right now all we can assume is either people are not getting tested or there is a low prevalence of disease in our community.”
Hersil said she is glad WMC came up with recommendations.
“The more recommendations, hopefully the better plan to move us forward to reopening safely,” she stated. “As people say, ‘We are all in this together.’”