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GOP calls for regional reopening in Wisconsin

A sign on the front door of Home Burger Bar in downtown Appleton May 7, 2020, indicates the business is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (WLUK/Monique Lopez)
A sign on the front door of Home Burger Bar in downtown Appleton May 7, 2020, indicates the business is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (WLUK/Monique Lopez)
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BUCHANAN (WLUK) -- A group of Republican leaders from the Wisconsin state Assembly held a news conference Thursday morning to urge the state to reopen its economy on a regional basis.

The plan depends on hospital data to tell them where certain business restrictions could be relaxed.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke doesn't think you can treat cities like the ones in the Fox Valley the same way as Milwaukee.

JumpStart Auto Repair in Neenah had to close for good earlier this week. Steineke says it's time to let some places reopen, so they don't go out of business too.

“If we don’t start to reopen soon, I mean we’re going to be looking at catastrophic impacts,” he said.

Many businesses have been closed since Governor Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" order took effect in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Steineke says things don't look good for the state's budget, either.

“In April of this year, we took in over $800 million less than we took in April of 2019,” Steineke said. “What we’re starting to see is the economic impact and what that’s going to mean to schools and healthcare programs throughout the state.”

Evers' order has been extended until May 26, but the Legislature is fighting the extension in the state Supreme Court.

Assembly Democrat Amanda Stuck says even reopening parts of the state could be dangerous.

“Either people die needlessly, because we just leave things open without trying to do our best to shut things down, or businesses get hurt, because we do shut things down,” she said. “There really aren’t good choices but, I think at the end of the day, keeping people alive is our number one goal.”

Republican leaders suggest letting businesses reopen, based on a region's hospital capacity.

They say COVID-19 hasn't hit all of the state in the same way.

“The vast majority of the state, the virus has had minimal impact, there’s very few people infected, very few people in the hospital, even in the Fox Valley,” said Steineke.

Stuck says the state cannot just simply reopen.

“Even as we reopen slowly, we’ll still see cases rise and we will see an increase,” she said.

Steineke says he believes Fox Valley businesses can reopen safely, with social distancing measures in place.

Wisconsin Hospital Association data shows four people are currently hospitalized in the region.

“That’s what this ‘Safer at Home’ order was all about was flattening the curve and not having the hospitals be overrun, well we’ve done that,” Steineke said.

Representative Stuck also says reopening the state regionally could confuse people. She says they may not know what the guidelines in each county are, and that could cause the disease to spread.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business group, has proposed a plan that would take into account those operating in more rural or suburban areas that have been less affected by COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

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Evers has unveiled a plan to reopen the state based on certain benchmarks. Progress toward the "Badger Bounce Back" plan can be measured on a special webpage.

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