Madison Wins Salute To Local Government Awards -Effective Response to COVID-19 Challenge
I’m pleased to share with you some statewide recognition our City is receiving, because of the work of two strong women and their amazing staff. The Wisconsin Policy Forum recently announced that Madison is a winner of the Salute to Local Government Award due to the incredible work of Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich and Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented tremendous challenges for all of us, including city staff. Amongst city staff, all departments have had to adjust, but perhaps most especially our public health professionals.
City of Madison has certainly not been alone or unique in the challenges faced. However, the City of Madison has, through swift action, emerged as a success story during this difficult year. Madison agencies are navigating the COVID-19 crisis, in close partnership with Dane County, State of Wisconsin, UW-Madison, the medical community, and other stakeholders by making and implementing plans that work.
Every agency in Madison adjusted its operations in response to COVID-19. However, if this tightly coordinated effort were a symphony, the conductor would be Public Health Madison & Dane County, led by Director Janel Heinrich (pictured, far left). Public Health normally has a staff of 140 (nowover 300 including new contract tracing personnel), serving over 500,000 people in more than 60 cities, villages, and towns across Dane County. As recently as February 2020, it was impossible to imagine the scope of responsibilities that Public Health would be facing.
It all began in earnest in early February, 2020. The 12th confirmed case of COVID-19 in the entire United States, and the first in Wisconsin, was a resident of Dane County who returned from a trip to China. The adult patient presented to UW Hospital ER, tested positive, was evaluated, diagnosed as a mild case, self-isolated at home, received daily check-ins, and fully recovered. Janel and the team at Public Health were closely involved in this entire process and learned from it.
Public Health, in coordination with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, made sure that clear information about this case was shared with the public. This was the beginning of a joint City and County COVID-19 public information campaign across multiple websites, traditional media and social media to keep the public up to date on the fast-moving pandemic as it began to rapidly spread across the country. With all of the misinformation and panic in circulation, this campaign became a critical centerpiece in slowing the spread of the virus in Madison and Dane County using facts and science. This effort continues today.
Public Health also began an intensive data collection and reporting operation that informed dozens of policy and program decisions. The design of an easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to use localized data dashboard developed with Public Health was the first in Wisconsin. The dashboard is refreshed daily on numbers of tests, positive tests, cases, recoveries, hospitalizations, fatalities, contact tracing, demographic data, and much more.
Website visitors are at all times able to access a variety of COVID-19 data including the dashboard. These can be found and studied easily on computers, tablets, or mobile devices. This data has shaped local policies on the phased shutdowns of business activity, government services, public events, and academic life while also leading the careful phased re-opening of every aspect methodically and transparently. This Forward Dane approach mirrored the “gating” recommendations made by the CDC for all jurisdictions.
Also included in the public information campaign were guidelines for individuals on safe workplaces, social distancing, personal hygiene, and directives on face coverings directly linked to CDC research and Governor’s orders for Wisconsin.
Madison leaders recognized that government services needed to continue despite the challenges. Every agency continued to conduct business, some with most or all staff working from home thanks to the necessary teleworking IT infrastructure being stood up in March and April of 2020. Essential workers including EMTs, garbage and recycling truck operators, bus drivers, police, firefighters, and mechanics continued courageously working without a break in service. The Metro bus system has operated throughout the pandemic in order to make sure accessible transport to and from work, community testing, healthcare, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other destinations could continue unabated. Metro and office buildings implemented Plexiglass shields and a rigorous disinfection protocol to protect both customers and staff. Meter parking fees and parking enforcements were suspended. Metro fares were suspended so that any person could take free rides and avoid contact surfaces. Boarding and descent were limited to back doors only with social distancing rules. All employees coming in to work have been provided PPE including various types of masks, gloves, face shields, and sanitizer. Importantly, Madison government has avoided major outbreaks while essential services continued.
Public Health also worked with the management teams of Madison and Dane to provide employees with relief in coordination with Human Resources, labor associations and unions. Every employee who could telework was given the option indefinitely. Workers were swiftly granted 80 hours of Emergency Personal Leave if needed for illness to them or family members, by and large enough days off to fully recover and/or quarantine from COVID-19 and related complications. Shifts were modified, and some agencies participated in Workshare or interagency redeployment to stagger the number of employees present at a time in the workplace, cover the work backlogs during a hiring freeze, and help prevent outbreaks. These measures have been effective in keeping personnel safe and productive, while ensuring City and County operations effectively continued 24/7.
Testing for COVID-19 is both the most glaring national failure in the US coronavirus response, and an ongoing strength of the Madison and Dane County local response. was ramped up here in an accessible way ahead of most parts of the country- and continues to be a better program than most parts of the United States overall. Residents have been able to receive testing using multiple means: through health care providers, through UW-Madison for university students and employees, or at community sites. The community sites opened in early May and have always been free of cost, can be accessed by motor vehicle, on foot, or on bicycle, and any person can receive a test at these community sites- even those visiting from other counties and beyond, without any conditions. Appointments, IDs, or coronavirus symptoms have never been required. Critically, test result turnaround time has also been typically within a few days. Thousands of people have received one or multiple tests during the pandemic period. The testing program has been a true partnership between the City, County, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Microsoft, and the Wisconsin National Guard. Public Health has also maintained close contact with area nursing homes, clinics, hospitals, and followed the science and medical community advice in shaping initiatives such as Forward Dane and #MaskUpMadison.
As the pandemic drags on, so does the work and although are all weary, we understand the importance of masks, physical distancing, minimizing contact with crowds and frequent hand washing. Janel Heinrich and her dedicated team have, and will continue to lead us through this unprecedented time. I join you in congratulating Janel and her team for this Salute to Local Government Award.
Stay tuned for my next update on another deserving award winner, City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.