MANITOWOC — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake toured the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Manitowoc County’s Expo Center Friday.
“I think we’re part of history,” said nurse Triss Willman, who helped administer the site’s 5,000th shot Friday. “This is record-breaking. We’re doing something that really has never been done before.”
Gov. Evers confirmed Friday that more than one million people in Wisconsin have now received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s about 17 percent of the state’s total population. More than 500,000 people in our state have received both doses, and are considered fully vaccinated.
Wisconsin has more than 3,000 approved vaccine locations, from large hospitals to small community clinics. Some of them, though, are still waiting on actual vaccines.
“It’s a logistics issue,” Evers said. “The vaccine companies have a supply chain that they have to rely on to get things in place. There’s a cadence that has to happen. It just takes time. That cadence is starting to really pick up.”
Evers reiterating President Joe Biden’s pledge that everyone who wants a shot will get one by the end of May. That includes people of color, in often underserved areas, who are among the population with the lowest vaccination rates right now.
“We are trying everything in our power to get the vaccines to those people directly,” Evers said. “There are folks that are still hesitant about even getting vaccinated, and we need to make sure we get the information to them.”
DHS Interim Secretary, Karen Timberlake, pointing to the proactive approach Manitowoc County has taken.
“Some of the work here in Manitowoc is quite impressive because there are a lot of direct phone calls being made out to people who are eligible to get the vaccine, to notify them and say it’s your turn to come in,” Timberlake said. “Some of the vaccinators across our state are already doing that, but I think more of them could. That kind of direct communication is often more effective.”
Milwaukee County did launch a vaccine zip code registry this week, to better confront racial disparities in vaccine distribution. As of now, it’s serving the 53206 zip code on Milwaukee’s north side and the 53204 zip code just south of downtown Milwaukee. It plans to expand to more zip codes.
In the meantime, Wisconsin’s mask mandate is set to expire March 20. Gov. Evers says he does plan to extend it.
“Yes, I will continue to do that at every step,” Evers said. “I know coronavirus cases are going down but we still have progress to make in terms of vaccinations. We will continue to follow the numbers. I am also a realist though and know that Supreme Court will ultimately have the last say when it comes to the mask mandate.”
The governor also plans to work with state lawmakers to try and make next school year’s start date flexible. He says several school district leaders have asked him if there’s any way to start school sooner than the Department of Public Instruction’s mandate of Sept. 1.
“Of course we have a law that sort of stands in the way, so that’s something we need to talk about,” Evers said. “As legislators, we will have to see if there could be a one-year reprieve on the Sept. 1 start date.”
Some school districts are interested in starting next school year earlier to make up for pandemic learning loss, and in order to better ventilate buildings and use outdoor spaces for classes.