Opinion

Wisconsin Gov Decides What's 'Essential'

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Posted: Mar 26, 2020 12:01 AM
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Wisconsin Gov Decides What's 'Essential'

Source: AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File

John Stocks just wants the opportunity to say goodbye to his dying father.

That’s no longer possible under Gov. Tony Evers’ Emergency Order #12, his so-called “Safer At Home” edict now requiring most Wisconsin residents to shelter in place for the next month. Evers, too, has decided who is essential — and who isn’t —in the workforce and in the greater business community.

His coronavirus laws, which come with a $250 fine and jail time for “violators,” demand greater social distancing ostensibly for the greater good. That means people in their final days of life, like John Stocks’ father, face the grim prospect of dying alone, or at least without their loved ones beside them. Even their funerals in this new COVID-19 reality must take place with no more than a few family members or friends gathered.

Stocks shared his story Monday on the Vicki McKenna Show on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

“Other families in (the Intensive Care Unit) are going through the same ordeal, cancer patients are going through this ordeal,” said Stocks, whose dad is in the end stages of esophageal cancer. He’s been in intensive care for 85 days, admitted on New Year’s Day. The hospital wouldn’t allow Stocks, his brother, his sister, not even his mother in to see the dying man. Health care officials finally relented and allowed his mother two hours to say her goodbyes.

“Until you’ve been in that situation, you don’t realize how much your support does impact how they get better, and how they pass,” Stocks said. “We can’t even have a funeral for my father. As his first-born son, I’m not there to be by his side. I had to say my goodbyes on Thursday.”

Stocks doesn’t blame the medical staff who have been so good to his father during his last battle. And he understands the urgent need to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly in hospitals and nursing homes.

Still, it all feels very unfair.

Remarkable times, these. In the face of a very real health care crisis, Wisconsin’s governor wields a lot of power — some of it understandable, some of it questionable, some of it dangerous to our dearest-held American principles.

Evers justifies his new, broader order by pointing to the exigent circumstances, noting that in the past 72 hours the number of novel coronavirus cases soared 119 percent nationally; 102 percent in Wisconsin (from 206 to 416).

“Five Wisconsinites have passed away as a result of COVID-19. Public health officials estimate that the actual number of Wisconsinites infected with COVID-19 is significantly higher and likely present in every county in the state…” Evers edict proclaims.

Therefore,

“All individuals present within the State of Wisconsin are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence” between 8 a.m. today and 8 a.m., April 24. A full month. He allows grocery shopping, seeing the doctor, and picking up medicine. You can walk your dog or exercise outside, but if you do any of those things, you’d better be at least six feet apart from the closest human being.

The homeless are exempt, but “strongly urged to obtain shelter.”

And all for-profit and non-profit businesses in the Badger State, except the ones the governor and his administration deem “essential,” are required to “cease all activities.”

What’s essential? What isn’t? Evers’ order includes a long list of necessary businesses and employees.

Those employed in frontline health care, defense, law enforcement, homeland security, critical infrastructure (you get the idea) will continue to operate. So will grocery stores, pharmacies, agriculture, transport companies and producers of food and beverage.

Child care providers, some charitable and social service organizations, gas stations, financial institutions, and post offices and other shippers of packages are considered essential. So, too, are laundry services, and suppliers to businesses and Wisconsin’s rapidly expanding at-home workforce.

While Evers and his administration have been anything but models of open government and protecters of the First Amendment, they do believe newspapers, television, radio and “other media services” are important enough to rank as essential.

Interestingly, the governor insists the “critical trades,” including building and construction tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers, iron workers and fabricators are essential. Arguably so, but might his decision have anything to do with the outsized political support he’s received from labor unions?

More so, Evers' order demands that “critical labor union functions,” including “administration of health and welfare funds” to members are essential.

Restaurants and bars are deemed essential, but they may only operate if they serve takeout food and beverages, or deliver.

Even sadder is the order's recognition that places of worship and funeral homes are essential but prohibited from hosting life’s most important rites of passage. In short, weddings, funerals, and religious gatherings must be limited to no more than nine people “in a room or confined space at a time and individuals shall adhere to Social Distancing Requirements as much as possible.”

Graduation ceremonies, weddings, anniversary parties, baptisms, first communions, Easter egg hunts, events planned months, even years in advance, postponed or canceled. Life on hold.

So much at stake, so much to lose.

Stocks said he’s lost the final moments of his “hero’s life.”

“We don’t want my father to pass alone,” he said.