What happens to Wisconsin's COVID-19 overflow contingency plans?

WEST ALLIS -- It's not often facilities are built with the hope no one will use them. But that is exactly what is happening all over the country, as states and counties partner with the federal government to set up COVID-19 overflow field hospitals known as alternate care facilities.

James Joseph

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken on the construction of 37 alternate care facilities, built with federal dollars. Two of them are in Milwaukee County -- one at State Fair Park and the other at Milwaukee County House of Correction.

"The County of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin came to FEMA and said, 'This a gap that we have and this is where we need your help," FEMA Regional Administrator James Joseph said.

After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished building the $14.9 million State Fair Park and $6 million House of Correction facilities, the federal government turned them over to the state and the county. The State Fair field hospital has gone unused. The House of Correction (HOC) site is meant to treat inmates throughout the region, but finished construction at the same time Milwaukee County announced HOC had zero new COVID-19 cases.

Alternate care facility at State Fair Expo Center

Earlier this month, Chicago announced the dismantling of its alternate care facility because it was not needed. But Gov. Tony Evers says the Badger State will hold onto its COVID-19 contingency plans for a little while longer.

"This sudden opening up of the state that the Supreme Court caused to happen, we don't know how that surge is going to look," Evers said, referencing the state Supreme Court's recent decision that abruptly overturned the Safer at Home order, which had shut down parts of the state. "So disassembling that facility at this point would not be a good idea at this point in time. We're going to keep it open; obviously there is some cost involved in that."

Alternate care facility at State Fair Expo Center

But no one will say what it will cost taxpayers to keep those facilities open. The state Department of Administration did not return three emails and two phone calls over four days, asking questions about the upkeep of the State Fair Park facility. Eventually, a spokesperson provided a FOX6 News reporter with a FAQ that did not answer questions about facility maintenance costs.

No one from the Milwaukee County House of Correction responded to FOX6's email or phone calls. A spokesperson for the Milwaukee County Executive's Office acknowledged the request, but did not answer questions about the costs of keeping the alternate care facility open.

Gov. Tony Evers

"It served the purpose," Gov. Evers said. "And actually one of the reasons that Milwaukee area hospitals can say they are able to take care of people and actually open up for other services, besides COVID-19 related, was because we had that facility in place. Right now that facility could serve other parts of the state, so we need to keep it in place. We have no compunction to apologize for having that."