Early in the pandemic the phrase “health care heroes” was used to laud those on the front lines. Now that the pandemic has loosened its grip on Wisconsin, that term is once again being used to show appreciation.

On March 14, Governor Tony Evers kicked off a statewide tour to acknowledge the testing, vaccination and education efforts of those at local health departments and tribal health clinics, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, and schools.

“You saved lives. Think about that,” Evers told those gathered inside the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, all of whom were wearing masks because it’s considered a medical facility in its current use as a testing and vaccination site.

“You are heroes of this pandemic, and pandemic or not, the work you do is extraordinary and improves the quality of life for everyone in this state. It is a call to serve that not everyone can answer. But you have,” he said, also mentioning the importance of essential workers such as grocery store employees and teachers.

Evers appeared with state Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake and Major General Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general who oversees the Wisconsin National Guard, Wisconsin Emergency Management and the Office of Emergency Communications.

The National Guard has been on its longest activation in the state’s history with its members active since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin. The Guard has administered COVID-19 testing and vaccines around the state and has worked at polling places and assisted law enforcement during protests over the last two years.

Last week, the state Department of Military Affairs recognized employees for their role in the pandemic, about which Knapp said, “It’s not ‘mission complete,’ but we’re getting close.”

More than 1,400 troops were mobilized at one point in the spring of 2020. More recently, roughly 200 Wisconsin Guard members have completed training to serve as certified nursing assistants at facilities struggling with staff shortages.

The state has spent millions in federal money on pandemic recovery, vaccine outreach and shoring up health facilities. Evers recently announced Wisconsin would contribute $20 million to a federally qualified health clinic in Racine.

Some free and charitable clinics have also bolstered the state’s efforts to reach groups that may have lacked access to vaccines because of time or transportation constraints. HealthNet in Janesville was recently awarded a $1.3 million grant from the state to expand.

Shаmаnе Mіlls

Lee Matz, Еrіc Cеrаmі, and Wisconsin National Guard

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