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Wisconsin opens vaccinations to general public Monday

covid vaccine

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin health officials have decided to make COVID-19 vaccinations available for the general public starting Monday, April 5, accelerating the timetable by a month, Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday.

Before, health care workers, people over 65, nursing home residents and staff, educators and people with existing health conditions are eligible for coronavirus vaccines. That will expand to everyone 16 and older starting Monday, Evers announced.

“We still have a heck of a long way to go to get everyone vaccinated,” Evers said during a news conference. “But every day we are closer than yesterday in getting back to our Wisconsin way of life. I know I’m not alone in feeling the hope, excitement and relief. ... We are this close to the finish line.”

State health officials had planned to open up vaccinations to the general public on May 1. But case rates in Wisconsin have been rising over the past two weeks, mirroring a national rise in infections.

Meanwhile, the state’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court is scheduled to rule Wednesday on whether Evers’ mask mandate is legal. The court struck down Evers’ stay-at-home order last spring, which doesn’t bode well for the mask mandate’s fate. An order invalidating the mandate wouldn’t touch local mask orders, but Evers would lose one of his last remaining tools to curb the virus’s spread statewide.

Asked during the news conference why the state decided to accelerate vaccinations for the general public, Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk made no mention of the uptick in cases or the looming court decision. She said the department is confident in the Biden administration’s long-range estimates of vaccine supply for the state, 75% of those over age 65 have received at least one dose and more than 1 million people have completed their vaccinations.

“There aren’t that many more people left to put in the mix,” she said. “This really simplifies the whole scenario for our vaccinators and the public.”

She acknowledged later in the news conference that Wisconsin is seeing warning signs of a surge, noting the seven-day case average stood at 501 on Tuesday, up from 363 on March 11.

Also Tuesday, state health officials announced that seven more pharmacy chains will receive vaccines this week as part of the federal retail pharmacy program. They are Costco; CVS; Hy-Vee; Good Neighbor and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation; Health Mart; Medicine Shoppe and Cardinal Health; and Topco. The Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network, which includes some Hometown Pharmacies, and Walmart will receive additional doses, allowing them to offer vaccinations at more locations.

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Neena Pacholke

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