Can you offer a note of optimism when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked Jeanette Kowalik, the health commissioner of the City of Milwaukee, that question at the end of an online “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” interview on Wednesday, May 20.
Kowalik tried, but it was a challenge to put a cheerful face on the impact the virus is having on Milwaukee and most of the world.
“Definitely what’s happening right now is like Haley’s comet,“ she said. It was hard to anticipate “something at this level” as a health crisis, she said, saying the United States as a whole was experiencing “these astronomical numbers” of confirmed cases and deaths.
The only option now is to continue social and physical distancing and use personal protective equipment such as face masks, Kowalik said, while awaiting development and widespread use of a vaccine to deal with the virus.
A bit more optimistically, Kowalik said, “This is definitely an investment in our future” to take all the steps that have shut down so many businesses, schools since mid-March, while stopping almost all travel. Following safety orders and guidelines has helped keep the situation from becoming worse than it has been.
“It is definitely something we’ll look back and learn that we got through this,” Kowalik said. She urged people to be careful of their own health, adding, “I neglected my own health and made myself worse.” Kowalik just returned from a medical leave. She did not provide details, except to say she has autoimmune issues.
During the conversation, Kowalik said the number of deaths in both the city and county of Milwaukee has declined, testing for the virus has become more widely available, and “contact tracing” to try to understand the spread of the virus had been substantially increased. “We’re very mindful that there’s progress, but we don’t want to get too happy and celebrate,” she said. “We’re very concerned that we’ll continue to see some upticks as the summer goes about.” And it will not be a normal summer in terms of what people can do and how they do them.
“We can assume we have COVID in our community; it’s not going away,” Kowalik said. People are eager to return to doing what they did before the virus hit, but protecting the health of people, especially those in vulnerable populations in a city such as Milwaukee, sometimes requires setting rules and limits, she said. “This is the role of government,” Kowalik said. “Government was meant to provide some protections when the public is unable to or unwilling to.”
Due to current limitations, the “On the Issues” event was conducted online, rather than in person in Eckstein Hall’s Lubar Center, as has been the practice for a decade. The same will be true for an “On the Issues” conversation with Milwaukee County’s new executive, David Crowley, at 12:15 p.m. June 10.
Video of the 23-minute conversation with Kowalik may be found by clicking here.