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Protect public safety, toss WMC’s gag lawsuit

The Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce (WMC) is continuing to beat the same tone-deaf drum of putting corporate profits ahead of people, this time seeking to sop up the red ink of corporate retailers with the bodies of Wisconsin residents.

The WMC, which through its successful blocking of any meaningful legislation to close the dark stores tax loopholes has already cost residential taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax shifts, now has taken aim at basic public health measures.

The WMC filed a lawsuit to block the release of business locations where there are multiple cases of COVID-19 reported. Health departments in cities around the state have routinely been announcing these hotspot locations as a matter of basic public safety. The lawsuit seeks to block the state from releasing this information.

As reported in state media, the WMC argued before a Waukesha County judge last week that the records should be protected by patient confidentially laws and that disclosure will “irreparably” harm businesses by “effectively blacklisting them.”

Here in Taylor County decisions to release business location or specific events are done on a case by case basis when it is otherwise impossible to track everyone who might have been in attendance. Other counties use a similar process.

While Taylor County has been fortunate, in some larger communities there are frequent flyers on these lists of potential community-spreading locations. This may be due to the concentration of people there, the types of businesses or the lack of any social distancing, lax public safety rules being followed or simply bad luck.

When alerts are issued, they are done so as a public safety measure so people who may have been at those locations or events know they should watch for symptoms or get tested. Consumers, especially the 40% of the population with underlying risk factors, may also use this information when making their own plans to minimize exposure risks by avoiding places that repeatedly have exposures reported.

The WMC seeks to muzzle state health officials and impose a gag order that would not only block the release of COVID-19 infections hotspots but could also be used to block releasing the names of businesses closed due to outbreaks of norovirus, salmonella, cholera, typhus and e. coli. Placing profits above public health demonstrates at best a murky morality if not marching outright into malfeasance.

It is undisputed medical fact that sunshine is the ultimate disinfectant. The WMC through their lawsuit is working to keep people in the dark about virus outbreak hotspots in the name of protecting profits. It is time to bring these locations into the full light of day and in doing so, give consumers the tools to make their own decisions.

While the ongoing pandemic is presenting challenges to retailers and other businesses, preventing the release of information robs consumers of the facts to make socially responsible decisions.

The public has an absolute right to know potential public health risks. The WMC’s efforts seek to undermine that right and must be blocked if not by the courts than by action of the legislature. Protecting public safety is the paramount duty of government at all levels.