Green Bay council discusses election, COVID-19
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay city council held its meeting remotely Wednesday, April 1.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming election on April 7 will see changes, said Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich.
“Right now, we have a deluge of absentee voter ballots to send out,” he said. “We have about 7,000 requests yet, so we are asking for patience from the public. We want people to vote by mail. I’ve never been in the position to ask people not to vote in person, but that’s where we sit.”
A week ago, the City of Green Bay filed a federal lawsuit against the Wisconsin Election Commission and Gov. Tony Evers’ administration seeking to delay the state’s election and transition it to mail.
The lawsuit argued election officials across the state cannot effectively and safely administer the election as scheduled during the spread of COVID-19.
“We brought suit up against the State of Wisconsin to do the entire election by mail based on the public health guidelines, but we were unsuccessful,” Genrich said. “We’ve gone from 278 poll workers in the city to 17. Ninety percent of the poll workers in the city are more than 60 years old.”
District 11 Alder John VanderLeest said the city needs to move forward with the election as Evers wishes.
“There’s been a lot of dollars spent on the election at this point,” he said. “There are lots of absentee ballots being filed, and I support the election going forward. I think we have to take the leadership role the governor has taken and do the best we can. If you don’t get your absentee votes in on time, you’ll have to go vote in person.”
Green Bay Fire Department Chief David Litton gave an update on COVID-19 and precautions the department is taking.
“Brown County Health is the lead on this pandemic, and all the city resources are going to support them,” he said. “Several things are happening in the emergency operations center, where all the personal protection equipment is being received, inventoried and distributed.”
Litton said the city received two shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile.
“A week ago, we couldn’t say the same thing, so that’s good news,” he said. “Things are a little disjointed coming from the state, but that’s a work in progress. We have been successful in acquiring more personal protection equipment for our personnel. We don’t have as much as we’d need if this gets bad, but I’m feeling a lot better going forward.”
Litton said there has been one quarantine isolation site established in the county and others are possible.
“The surge models are showing the greatest impact of this will be in about 10 to 14 days,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict exactly when it will peak.”
He said the state has set up a four-tier system for testing people who might exhibit symptoms, and first responders are in Tier 2.
“We’ve tested a couple of people,” said Litton. “We haven’t gotten the results back yet, but if we suspect anything from others, we can move them to the front of the line to get tested. Two weeks ago, we had 14 people quarantined, but now we’re down to two.”
Litton said the two individuals will be released from quarantine soon, and they are no longer showing symptoms, but per Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, 72 hours must pass before they are released after symptoms cease.
“Our ambulances have transported 45 patients in the last two weeks who have exhibited the signs of having the virus,” he said. “In the time our paramedics are having contact with the patients, they don’t know for sure. It’s not until days later we get the results back. In the meantime, our personnel – both police and fire – are doing self-checks, and we immediately put them into quarantine. If we’d have a major breakout in any of our fire stations or police ranks, we’d wipe out half of our departments in no time. We need to have the emergency personnel available for the calls.”
Litton said the city is keeping track of personnel hours and equipment purchased due to COVID-19, and the federal government will reimburse up to 75 percent of these costs.
“Overall, the city, county and other municipalities are working well together,” he said. “We will ensure the citizens of the region receive the finest care possible. In my opinion, our county is way ahead of most of the counties in the state. We started pushing in the county 17 or 18 days ago. There are many counties in the state that don’t have an emergency operation center open. They will be behind the eight ball if this gets worse.”
District 4 Alder Bill Galvin said he’s been seeing stories on social media about non-essential businesses in Green Bay staying open.
“Some people are becoming frustrated because they are trying to be good about keeping social distance, and yet some businesses and individuals are putting everyone at risk in our community by staying open.”
Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith weighed in on Galvin’s comment.
“This is a huge problem across Wisconsin,” Smith said. “No exaggeration, I probably get 50 emails a day from chiefs across the state looking for guidance on this. We’ve been leaning on the city’s attorney’s office in helping us decide, but there are some out there clearly in violation. We are taking it on a case-by-case basis.”