City and health leaders: Need to meet benchmarks to safely reopen

Posted at 6:51 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 19:51:34-04

It is the question on so many people's minds--how do we get back to "normal?" Local leaders say we have to meet a few benchmarks first.

"It's got to be done in an intelligent way, so we don't have a setback that's gonna make it even worse than what we're facing right now," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

From his home, Mayor Barrett says he and his staff meet regularly and consult with experts and doctors on how to reopen Milwaukee as COVID-19 upends lives safely.

The mayor has listed five criteria for lifting restrictions: a sustained drop in cases for 14 days, more testing, hospitals treating patients without crisis standards, more personal protective equipment or PPE, and more contact tracing of COVID-19.

"I am convinced that if we can stem this at the community level, so that means testing followed by isolation followed by community tracing that's going to be the key that allows us to reopen the economy, and that's what I want to see done," said Mayor Barrett.

"I think those benchmarks really are sort of protective factors. When we think about public health, one of our biggest roles is prevention," said Kirsten Johnson, Director and Health Officer at Washington Ozaukee Public Health.

Johnson shared the same benchmarks as Mayor Barrett, milestones that, if reached, would mean better control of the current situation.

"We are hopeful that we are able to open up and go back to life as normal and open up our economy again, but we just want to be cautious and make sure it's done gradually, so we don't have a huge spike that we're unable to handle," said Johnson.

Johnson explained achieving each piece is essential.

"If we are seeing that there is a decrease in the number of cases, it's less likely that there's going to be people out in the community who potentially have an illness and are contagious. If we know our hospitals can respond to a surge because more people are now interacting with one another, it's likely we're going to see a spike again we know our hospitals are able to respond, which is what this was about in the first place," said Johnson.

"We know that everyone can get tested we have data to enter into our models so we know exactly what this looks like so we have a sense of how many people have been impacted, what percentage of our population is still at risk and what are the pieces that need to be in place so we can be more proactive. Finally, the contact tracing part of it as well. We need to be able to know who's sick and how do we slow the spread amongst each other when we're all out sharing the same community and space."

In Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Johnson says they can conduct contact tracing quickly, and the hospital systems are not taxed. However, they do not have enough tests for everyone who wants or needs to be tested, and they have not seen a decrease in cases for 14 days.

When we can reopen and get back to some sense of normalcy, even that will be different.

"I would imagine there's going to be some things that are in place for a while like wearing masks in public or when we go to a restaurant, there's going to have to be social distancing. You know your tables aren't going to be next to each other or even gatherings at home; maybe they have to be less than ten people for an extended number of time," said Johnson.

It is a shift that Governor Evers says will not happen now until May 26th at the earliest.

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