'Here & Now' Highlights: Dr. Ryan Westergaard, State Sen. André Jacque, Mayor Satya-Rhodes Conway, Barry Burden

Here's what guests on the Dec. 10, 2021 episode had to say about how the Delta variant is crushing hospitals, a related proposal to get military medics to help covid patients, the Gableman subpoena of Madison's mayor and how the 2020 election probes continue to unfold.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

December 13, 2021

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From left to right, a split screen with Frederica Freyberg and Dr. Ryan Westergaard seated in different locations

Frederica Freyberg and Dr. Ryan Westergaard (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Hospital capacity in Wisconsin is not easing and the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases is once again telling people to get vaccinated — to protect themselves and others. A state senator who became critically ill with COVID-19 has authored a bill to bring military medics into health care settings in order to help overburdened hospital staff. The mayor of Madison responds to a subpoena that threatens jail time for failure to comply, and an elections expert weighs in on the fever pitch of the ongoing 2020 investigations.


Dr. Ryan Westergaard
State Epidemiologist, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

  • COVID-19 case numbers in Wisconsin are again surpassing 5,000 on some days, with the Delta variant responsible for nearly all new infections. Doctors say people getting sick with covid now are generally younger and staying in the hospital for longer. Hospitals are full to capacity across wide swaths of the state.
  • Westergaard: “We are in a dangerous situation. It’s not strictly ICU beds — it is all hospital beds. It’s emergency departments, and it is the general availability or bandwidth of health care professionals around the state that is very strained. We have very full hospitals, which makes it more difficult to give people the highest level of care that they need when people need it.”
  • Public health officials have been urging people to get vaccinations for COVID-19. In Wisconsin the fully vaccinated rate is below 60%. There is particular urgency going into the holidays.
  • Westergaard: “I have a lot of compassion for people who say that ‘I’m really sick of this and I want life to be back to normal.’ But what I want people to understand is that we have an opportunity to do a really important thing, which is to save lives over the next few months. It’s going to be really stressful in our hospitals, and we have the ability by taking small steps of being smart about when we’re gathering and getting ourselves vaccinated to be a part of the solution, which is to prevent the spread of disease and save lives of people in our community.”


State Sen. André Jacque
(R) De Pere

  • Jacque spent weeks in the hospital seriously ill with COVID-19 and has first-hand understanding about the number of healthcare workers it takes to attend to such patients. He said his proposed legislation allowing military veterans with medical training to practice in Wisconsin temporarily without licenses is not related to his own experience.
  • Jacque: “One of the focuses that we really have had is how do we get more of our military men and women to come back to Wisconsin? We have an issue in Wisconsin where individuals were entering the service and they weren’t coming back. This is an opportunity to basically say, ‘You have a skill set, a work ethic and we want to keep you in the healthcare profession.'”


Satya Rhodes-Conway
Mayor, City of Madison

  • The mayors of Madison and Green Bay are in the crosshairs of the Michael Gableman election investigation. Subpoenas he issued seek to compel their testimony on his terms under the threat of jail for failure to comply. Gableman’s lawyers say the mayors are in violation. Their attorneys say the subpoenas are invalid and illegal. Gableman’s focus on the mayors stems from private grants their cities received for implementing the 2020 elections during the pandemic.
  • Rhodes-Conway: “The subpoena that they used is one that you use to compel people to testify before the Legislature. And I think that this needs to be out in public. I am happy to go talk to a legislative committee about the elections process here in Madison. It’s a block away. I’m happy to walk up the street. All they have to do is invite me. But I think that what we can see here is that it’s not actually about how our elections were run. This is about trying to intimidate us. This is about trying to intimidate voters and to cast doubt on future elections.”
  • Madison’s mayor says she did not fail to comply with the subpoena, that her lawyers have been talking to Gableman and his staff throughout, producing reams of documents for them. Lawyers for Gableman told Madison officials it was not necessary to come and testify, according to Rhodes-Conway.
  • Rhodes-Conway: “I think this investigation is yet another effort by people who are unhappy with the outcome of the November 2020 election and want to make it easier to question future elections. The truth is that elections in Madison, across the state of Wisconsin and, I believe, across the country, are very well run by our municipal clerks and by poll workers who are your friends and neighbors. I want people to have confidence in our electoral system, and to understand that what we’re trying to do here in Madison is to make it easier for everyone who is eligible to cast a ballot.”


Barry Burden
Professor, Director, UW-Madison Elections Research Center

  • Multiple elections investigations ongoing in Wisconsin on the part of Republican legislators and their contractors (like Gableman) and even individuals in law enforcement (like Racine County Sheriff’s Office) are roiling experts who know about the process.
  • Burden: “It is a bit of a three-ring circus. We are more than a year from the presidential election and still there are probes, investigations and audits underway of one form or another. All of them essentially open-ended with no clear goals. So my fear is they are unfortunately doing the opposite of what the proponents say they are doing. Instead of building confidence in the election system, they are continuing to raise suspicions, make allegations and leave questions on the table that are likely to lower public trust in elections.”
  • One question is how voters should digest all the information and allegations being generated from the investigations.
  • Burden: “The people to trust are those who are in positions of authority who actually administer elections and understand how they are run. They won’t say it was perfect. It’s a complicated human process that has some errors and some inconsistencies, but they are people who know from firsthand experience how these things operate, as opposed to these outside observers who are flown in to offer kind of outlandish speculation.”


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