Kapsner is one of at least four healthcare workers running for Democratic seats in the Wisconsin state assembly, and one of many in his field to speak out against Trump and the GOP’s response to Covid.
Wisconsin is in the throes of one of the nation’s worst Covid epidemics. On October 27, the state reported more than 5,000 new cases and a test-positive rate of over 27%. Nearly 2,000 people have died and only the Dakota are currently reporting more cases per capita.
Despite this, Donald Trump has held large rallies across the state – three just last week – where crowds gather in the thousands, often without masks. Another Trump rally is scheduled for Monday in Kenosha, the site of last summer’s unrest after Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police. Wisconsin is a crucial swing state in Tuesday’s election; Trump carried the state by just 27,000 votes in 2016 and currently lags behind Joe Biden in the polls.
Last week, a group of 20 doctors sent an open letter to Donald Trump asking him to stop holding rallies in the state. On Thursday, the day before Trump’s scheduled appearance in Green Bay, hospitals issued a joint statement urging residents to avoid large crowds. Earlier this month, the Trump campaign scuttled plans for a rally in La Crosse, western Wisconsin, after the city’s mayor asked him not to come amid a peak of case there.
Dr Kristin Lyerly, an obstetrician / gynecologist who practices in Appleton, eastern Wisconsin, said she struggled to find the right words to describe her anger at the rallies, which have been linked to the coronavirus outbreaks subsequent. Last week, at a rally in Waukesha, about 100 miles south of Appleton, Trump falsely accused healthcare workers of inflating the number of Covid cases for financial gain.
“His lies kill my neighbors,” she said.
Lyerly, who is also running for the State Assembly, said she spent her days trying to reassure terrified pregnant patients, while fearing she could contract the virus herself. She and her colleagues are overwhelmed. She keeps her PPE in her car to make sure she never goes without it. “We have completely forgotten the human impact on our healthcare workers. Our healthcare workers are exhausted, exhausted and feel totally disrespectful, ”she said.
Lyerly said she decided to run for office in April, after the Republican-controlled state assembly refused to postpone a state-wide election, in which the presidential primary Democrat and a key seat in the state’s supreme court were on the ballot. The state GOP has also hampered efforts to make it easier for Wisconsinites to vote by mail.
“As a doctor, I think many of us were shocked that our legislature put us in danger and made us decide between our vote and our health,” she said. She’s running in a district that tends to be Tory-leaning, but said the latest polls in her campaign put her within the margin of error of her opponent, an incumbent.
Dr. Robert Freedland, an ophthalmologist from southwestern Wisconsin and state head of the Medicare Protection Committee, signed the letter asking Trump to stop holding rallies in Wisconsin. He wanted to be declared publicly that he spoke out in the name of public health.
Freedland, 65, with type II diabetes, said he fears for his health when he goes to work.
Dr Jeff Kushner, a cardiologist who also signed the letter, said he could not work since March due to the pandemic. Kushner, 65, has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is taking immunosuppressants. “If I had Covid, I wouldn’t survive,” he says.
Although he follows politics closely, Kushner said he was not “politically involved” and tended to keep his politics to himself and a small circle. But he said he did not view signing the letter to Trump as a political act. “This is a statement of how I feel about the health of our society and not a political statement,” he said. “It wasn’t an anti-Trump letter, we were just saying, ‘Please don’t have these super-propagative events in our state.'”
Kapsner, the emergency room doctor for Northwestern Wisconsin, said he still speaks with patients and voters who doubt the severity of Covid-19. “My job is not to shame them,” he said. “There are a lot of people here who have been fortunate enough not to be personally affected by Covid. Their friends or families haven’t had it yet – I’m afraid their luck is running out.