Gov. Tony Evers has a daunting task ahead of him.
As chief executive officer, he is overseeing the Wisconsin team that will be distributing the vaccines in Wisconsin. Getting back to normal hinges on the swift, efficient and safe rollout of the vaccinations across the state.
Handling a sudden influx of work in a short period of time: Sound familiar?
That’s just what Wisconsin Workforce Development Office did with unemployment compensation when the pandemic hit. Out-of-work people waited months to get paid. Thousands upon thousands of calls from citizens were not answered. An audit ticked off a litany of issues. Some of them were rooted in overloaded staff and software failure, but there was plenty of mismanagement and poor judgement thrown in there to give anyone pause.
This week, Evers was taking heat because Wisconsin is trailing other states in administering the vaccines. As of Monday, 85,609 of the 266,675 doses the state had had been administered. Evers bristled at the criticism that this state was 10th out of 12 Midwest states in progress in dolling out the vaccines.
This is sounding like deja vu all over again.
But unlike the unemployment compensation debacle, Evers had months to prepare for this. Now the vaccines are rolling, and people should be rolling up their sleeves to get them, but it’s like a race car stuck in the mud: a lot of spinning and not much progress.
To Evers credit, he just announced Thursday that the National Guard had administered its 1 millionth COVID-19 test. That is amazing, and the one hopeful sign we have seen so far. The military has done an admirable job of filling in during this crisis when others could not. Where would we be without them and the main makeshift testing sites they have set up to test for COVID-19.
Plans were also announced that CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens were going to spearhead the effort to make sure nursing home residents are getting their shots. This is the must vulnerable population of people at risk, except for perhaps frontline health-care workers, so this indeed is good news.
So what can Evers do?
First of all, start with the what has worked before. Take some of those National Guard troops and put them to work on the inoculation. These men and women have already shown they are up to the task on testing, restoring the peace after a summer of rioting and countless other duties. They are built for this type of mission.
Evers could also use this as an opportunity to get the lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature to get off their hands. The GOP has been loathe to meet and do anything these past few weeks and helping the governor look effective is undoubtedly not going to be high on their to-do list, but this is when Evers needs to call their bluffs.
This state desperately needs to get moving again. The recession that hit after the pandemic began has left us stuck in low gear. Nothing is going to get us back into high gear again, and get businesses charged up and hiring again, like herd immunity. And that starts with mass vaccinations. How in the world are Republicans going to balk at measures that are clearly aimed at implementing vaccine on a large-scale basis to those who want them?
But we need a plan. Evers has been derided as an ineffectual bureaucrat but he can do a lot to overcome that label by taking the lead on this issue.
We need that vaccine and, yes, it is going to take months to administer them all to everyone who wants or needs them, but more than anything else we need signs of hope and leadership that help get us on the way; we just need to be sure our government has a well thought out plan to get us there.