Milwaukee-Area Coronavirus Updates: March 30-April 5
For the most up-to-date information, read WUWM's latest coronavirus post.
WUWM is providing updates about the coronavirus and COVID-19 in Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area. Find the most recent news and information here.
Wisconsin and Milwaukee by the numbers, according to state Department of Health Services (unless otherwise noted):
- 73 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (state and Milwaukee County reports) — 39 of those deaths were in Milwaukee County.
- Wisconsin has at least 2,267 confirmed cases.
- Milwaukee County has 1,270 confirmed cases, 996 of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee. This is according to reports from the county. The county also says, "Due to the nature of COVID-19 community spread and testing, the number of positive cases is likely much higher than that listed as a result of unreported or untested cases in our community."
April 5, 2:54 p.m.: Liberal Groups Urge Supreme Court To Allow Extended Voting In Wisconsin Election
Democrats and liberal groups in Wisconsin are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a ruling that extends absentee voting in Tuesday’s spring election. The groups argue in a legal brief Sunday that it’s essential to preserve public health and make sure no voters are disenfranchised.
Wisconsin’s election is on track for in-person voting Tuesday despite widespread public health fears over the coronavirus. Republicans argue that the election should be held as scheduled with no absentee extension. Meanwhile, a group of mayors on Sunday asked the state’s acting health secretary to step in and stop in-person voting.
April 5, 2:25 p.m.: Wisconsin National Guard Sent To Sheboygan Senior Facility With Coronavirus Outbreak
The Wisconsin National Guard is testing for COVID-19 at a Sheboygan senior living facility after an outbreak there last week. The Guard arrived Sunday at Sunny Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and set up a mobile testing site, helping test all staff and more than 90 residents for the disease.
Health officials say a second person has died in a coronavirus outbreak at the nursing home. The Sheboygan Press reports 10 people had tested positive after a resident at the center became the first in the county to die from COVID-19. At least 30 staff members have had to enter quarantine.
“The National Guard is coming in and helping us with the manpower, with both medics as well as decontamination. They’re staffed to help provide that testing and the coordination related to getting all of these residents and staff tested, as well as collecting specimens in a timely manner,” said Libby Jacobs, with the Sheboygan County Department of Health and Human Services, in a press release.
The Guard is also helping staff two state-run voluntary self-isolation facilities in Madison and Milwaukee, along with an additional Milwaukee facility by providing medical monitoring and administrative support. Members of the Guard will also serve as poll workers on Tuesday since Wisconsin has a shortage of poll workers due to COVID-19 and will provide supplies to polling stations to help ensure a safe and sanitary election.
-Olivia Richardson, Associated Press
April 5, 10 a.m.: Democratic National Convention May Need To Be Virtual, Biden Says
Joe Biden says the Democratic National Convention may need to take place online as the pandemic continues to reshape the race for the White House. The convention in Milwaukee already has been pushed back from mid-July until August.
"We may have to do a virtual convention. I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding the convention is going to be necessary. We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place and that's very possible," Biden said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday.
Joe Biden tells @GStephanopoulos that holding the Democratic convention is “necessary,” but Democrats “may have to do a “virtual” convention amid the COVID-19 threat.— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 5, 2020
“We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place and that’s very possible.” https://t.co/e2VNorQYGV pic.twitter.com/O1OmoLTEF0
-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson
April 4, 6:15 p.m.: GOP Lawmakers Reject Gov. Evers’ Effort To Postpone April 7 Election And Switch To Mail-In Ballots
The Wisconsin Legislature went into special session Saturday, as ordered by Gov. Tony Evers, and then immediately adjourned.
In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Evers wanted to switch the April 7 election to one where all voters would vote by mail-in absentee ballots, unless a disability prevented them from doing so. The Democrat also wanted to extend the deadline for submitting ballots to a date in May.
Refusing to take action on Evers’ proposals, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have said they believe the election Tuesday can be held safely, with thousands of people voting in-person.
Election officials say they’re severely understaffed because workers are staying at home out of concern over COVID-19. Critics of moving forward with the in-person election say it will be impossible to practice social distancing at the polls, meaning voters and poll workers likely will be at an increased risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus.
Wisconsin Republicans also say they intend to fight the ruling this past Thursday by U.S. District Judge William Conley, which allows absentee ballots to be turned in as late as 4 p.m. on April 13 – six days after the election.
Conley permitted the extended deadline in a time when many more people than usual are voting absentee because of the coronavirus. GOP leaders say they want the U.S. Supreme Court to put a stop to the extended deadline, citing concerns about election security.
April 4, 6:02 p.m.: Wisconsin Granted Federal Disaster Declaration
Saturday, the federal government granted Gov. Tony Evers’ request for a major disaster declaration in Wisconsin to respond to COVID-19. Earlier this week, Evers asked the federal government to provide the following programs to support the state’s response: Public Assistance, Direct Assistance, Hazard Mitigation, and certain Individual Assistance programs, such as Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program.
According to the governor’s office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified the state Saturday that it is granting the request for Public Assistance to help provide reimbursement for emergency protective measures taken by state and local governments in their response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The declaration also authorizes direct Federal Assistance, meaning when the state and local governments lack the capability to perform or to contract for eligible emergency work and/or debris removal, the state may request that the work be accomplished by a federal agency.
“I am grateful for the swift action of the federal government in reviewing our request for a major disaster declaration,” Gov. Evers said. “The assistance granted [Saturday] will help ensure Wisconsin can gain access to critical assistance as we continue our work to respond to this pandemic.”
The declaration provides access to Public Assistance programs for all 72 Wisconsin counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes. It covers assistance to public entities, and will cover eligible projects submitted by counties, cities, townships, tribes, and certain private, not-for-profit organizations. Evers' additional requests for assistance remain under review.
April 4, 1:15 p.m.: Federal Appeals Court Says Absentee Voters Must Have Witness To Sign Ballot Envelope
Contradicting a decision made Thursday by U.S. District Judge William Conley, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s April 7 election will not be counted if they don’t have a witness signature on the envelope.
Conley’s ruling applied to voters who are staying at home because of the coronavirus, and don't have a witness present to sign the ballot envelope. He said they could submit a statement saying they are unable to safely obtain a witness certification.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit ruled Friday that the witness requirement must be enforced.
However, the appeals court rejected an effort by Republican lawmakers and groups to stop election clerks from accepting mailed in absentee ballots through 4 p.m. on April 13. That’s six days after the election. Conley’s Thursday ruling extended the deadline in order to give people more time to vote absentee, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
There are contests on the April 7 ballots for Wisconsin’s presidential primary, state Supreme Court, thousands of county and municipal offices, and a number of school spending referendums.
April 3, 4:31 p.m.: Wisconsin GOP Says Election Should Go On As Scheduled
Wisconsin Republicans are brushing off Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call for a special session to push back Tuesday’s election and shift to mail-only. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald say the election should continue as scheduled.
“Unfortunately, it’s this type of feckless leadership Wisconsin has come to expect of the governor in the face of this crisis. Instead of remaining strong to ensure our representative democracy continues, he caves under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups," Vos and Fitzgerald said in a joint statement.
A number of other states have delayed their spring elections to protect voters and poll workers from the coronavirus, but Evers and Republicans haven’t been able to reach a consensus on any changes to Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin.
Criticism has been mounting for them to postpone the contest. Evers on Friday called a special legislative session on Saturday for changes that would allow the election to be done exclusively by absentee ballot.
-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson
April 3, 3:40 p.m.: Wisconsin Health Official Says COVID-19 Curve Is Flattening
Wisconsin’s chief medical officer for communicable diseases says that data on coronavirus infections continues to show that the state is “flattening the curve.”
Dr. Ryan Westergaard first said on Monday that there were positive signs with the slowing increase in COVID-19 cases, a message he repeated again Thursday and Friday. He says, “We are flattening the curve.” Westergaard calls it a “glimmer of hope that what we’re doing is making a big difference.”
As of Friday, there were more than 1,900 confirmed cases in the state and 37 deaths.
April 3, 2:03 p.m.: Evers Calls Special Session To Allow All-Mail Election
In a complete about-face, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers now supports an all-mail April 7 election. Evers says he wants every registered voter to receive an absentee ballot to vote in the upcoming election.
- allow an all-mail election and waive the witness requirement.
- send a ballot to every registered voter who has not already requested one by May 19.
- extend the time for those ballots to be received to May 26.
"The bottom line is that I can’t ignore the municipal leaders from Green Bay to Milwaukee to Waukesha. That they have now significantly condensed the number of polling locations available creating dangerous situations where voters, volunteers and staff will not be able to avoid large groups or practice social distancing when they go out to vote," he said in a video posted to Twitter.
Evers called a special session for Saturday at 4 p.m.
He spoke about the special session Friday during a state Department of Health Services news conference. When asked if he's optimistic that the Legislature will take up the proposed legislation, Evers said:
"There are no givens in this world. I talked to [GOP leaders] several weeks ago about this. This is more complex now. The virus is telling us there will be a surge. I'm confident that common sense will prevail and we'll get some solutions on this."
-Angelina Mosher Salazar, Marti Mikkelson
April 3, 1:56 p.m.: Perez Promises As 'Robust As Convention As Possible' For DNC
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez says the party's convention in Milwaukee will be as robust as possible, despite a five-week delay due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Perez wouldn’t say in an interview Friday with The Associated Press what specific changes may be in store for the meeting delayed a month from July to August.
“We’re going to try and put on as robust a convention as possible in as safe a manner as possible," he says.
Perez says he was determined to keep the convention in Milwaukee
April 3, 11:42 a.m.: Judge Rules Wisconsin Clerks Can't Release Results From Tuesday's Election Before April 13 Absentee Deadline
A federal judge has ordered Wisconsin officials to withhold reporting any results from Tuesday’s election until extended absentee balloting is complete April 13. U.S. District Judge William Conley on Friday granted a request from the Wisconsin Elections Commission following his order a day earlier for extended absentee voting.
State leaders have been committed to keeping to Tuesday’s election date despite widespread concerns that voters and poll workers are endangered by the coronavirus.
Gov. Tony Evers and others have encouraged people to vote absentee. More than 1 million people have requested ballots, breaking all previous records.
April 2, 3:37 p.m.: Judge Won't Delay Wisconsin Election But Extends Voting
A federal judge has decided not to postpone Wisconsin's presidential primary but will give people more time to file absentee ballots. Democrats and liberal groups had asked U.S. District Judge William Conley to postpone in-person voting for Tuesday's election and extend the deadline for filing absentees.
Conley signaled during a court hearing this week that he was uncomfortable overruling state leaders' decision to stick with the election date. But he did order Thursday that the deadline for counting absentees be extended by nearly a week to 4 p.m. April 13. Also, the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is extended to Friday by 5 p.m.
Conley also ordered that Wisconsin waive the requirement for a witness signature for absentee voters — those who can't safely get a witness certification can now submit a written statement saying they tried but were unsuccessful.
-Lauren Sigfusson, Associated Press
April 2, 1:40 p.m.: Dr. Fauci's Face Will Soon Be On A Bobblehead
The United States' top infectious disease specialist is getting his own bobblehead.
The creation from the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum features Dr. Anthony Fauci wearing a suit as he discusses the coronavirus pandemic. Museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar says Fauci was picked because many people see the plain-speaking expert on the coronavirus as a hero right now.
Sklar said the Milwaukee museum will donate $5 from every $25 Fauci bobblehead that's sold to the American Hospital Association. The funds will go toward getting masks and other protective equipment for health care workers.
April 2, 11:19 a.m.: Democratic National Convention Delayed Until August
The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Thursday that the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee will be delayed until August 17. The announcement comes as a response to the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak.
The convention planning team plans on using the coming weeks to further explore all options to ensure the convention is done without unnecessary risk to public health. These options include everything from adjusting the convention’s format to crowd size and schedule.
-Angelina Mosher Salazar
April 2, 9:20 a.m.: Dairy Farmers Begin To Flush Away Milk Due To Coronavirus
Many dairy processing plants across Wisconsin have more product than they can handle and that's forced farmers to begin dumping their milk down the drain. That's the case at Golden E Dairy near West Bend.
Farmer Ryan Elbe tells WISN-TV they are dumping about about 30,000 gallons a day. The coronavirus has dried up the marketplace for dairy products as restaurants, schools and business in food service have been closed.
The Journal Sentinel reports that Elbe's cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, for now has agreed to pay them for their milk that’s being dumped. But, like most cooperatives, DFA can only afford to do that for so long.
April 2, 9:03 a.m.: Biden Predicts Democratic Convention Delayed Until August
Prospective Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he thinks the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee will have to be pushed back from July 13-16 into August because of the coronavirus. The pandemic is forcing Democrats and Republicans to take a close look at their summer conventions, which typically kick off the general election season.
In an interview Wednesday with The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon, Biden said, "I doubt whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July ... I think it is going to have to move into August."
The New York Times is reporting Katie Peters, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee, said she expects the committee to announce more details about changes by the end of this week.
The paper is also reporting that the two most likely dates for the convention to move to are Aug. 17-20 and Aug. 31-Sept. 3. A Milwaukee Bucks official said the Fiserv Forum is available those weeks.
Republicans are expressing confidence they can pull off their convention as scheduled in late August. But party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel still allows for the possibility the pandemic could upend GOP plans.
-Michelle Maternowski, Associated Press
April 1, 6 p.m.: Barrett Optimistic About Summer Democratic National Convention In Milwaukee
During a press briefing about the coronavirus pandemic, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he's optimistic the Democratic National Convention will be in Milwaukee this summer — but unsure in what form. Though, figuring out how Milwaukee can host the convention as planned isn't at the top of his list.
"I am working around the clock, as is the city staff, right now on COVID-19. That’s where our priorities are and that’s where our priorities should be,” Barrett says.
The Democratic National Convention is currently set for July 13-16 in Milwaukee.
April 1, 5:33 p.m.: Federal Judge Signals He Won't Postpone Wisconsin Election
A federal judge is signaling he won't postpone or make any major changes to Wisconsin's spring election to alleviate concerns about voters and poll workers contracting the coronavirus.
Democrats and a host of liberal-leaning groups have filed three federal lawsuits asking U.S. District Judge William Conley to postpone in-person voting on Tuesday, lift requirements that absentee voters include photo ID with ballot applications and give people more time to file those ballots with local clerks. Conley told the groups' attorneys during a hearing Wednesday that they haven't shown the crisis impinges on people's voting rights.
April 1, 3:33 p.m.: Evers Unveils Second Legislative Coronavirus Package
Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday a second package of legislative proposals to address the coronavirus pandemic in Wisconsin. This one would lead to investments in health services, support for essential workers, and offer assistance for families and businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evers' package features more than a dozen proposals, including increased funding for Medicaid providers, supplemental payments to child care providers, and grant funding from small businesses and workers, according to a press release.
“What the federal government has passed is a great start, but I am concerned it does not go nearly far enough,” Evers said in the release.
The governor introduced his first coronavirus aid package last week.
April 1, 1:50 p.m.: Poll Shows Strong Support For Evers' Virus Reaction In Wisconsin
A new poll shows broad support for the actions taken by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to close schools and businesses and limit gatherings to slow the spread of the disease.
The Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday comes as Evers works with the Republican-controlled Legislature on a state coronavirus relief package. Republicans say they have agreed to waive a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.
The poll shows Evers has 76% support for his handling of the pandemic so far. But Republican leaders criticized Evers for not presenting more data, including how many people have been hospitalized with COVID-19.
April 1, 1:30 p.m. Biden, Sanders Weigh In On Democratic National Convention And Wisconsin Election
Joe Biden says the United States can still conduct democracy while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic presidential frontrunner shared his perspective Wednesday afternoon on MSNBC.
“Who knows by the time we get into June, July, August, September what it's gonna look like. We'll have to listen to the scientists. But there's no rationale for eliminating or delaying the election, it may be virtual,” Biden said
He eluded to the possibility of relying on secure absentee voting for the July Democratic National Convention and the presidential election in November.
In the meantime, fellow Democratic contender Bernie Sanders is calling on Wisconsin to delay its April 7 primary.
“We don’t want people to have to risk their lives in order to cast a vote,” Sanders said in a statement on Wednesday.
Sanders believes the best process is for all states to allow everyone to vote by mail “without having to line up at a polling booth."
April 1, 1:03 p.m. Bucks Try To Make Sure They're Ready Whenever Season Resumes
The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century. The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.
April 1, 11:13 a.m.: Republicans Support Waiving Unemployment Waiting Period
Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders say that they support temporarily waiving a one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits. About 240,000 people have filed for unemployment claims since March 15 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that work was ongoing on a legislative aid package that would supplement the federal stimulus that is bringing about $2.3 billion to Wisconsin. Vos and Fitzgerald both said there was broad support among Republicans who control the Legislature to temporarily waive the waiting period. They say they hope to vote on the bill as soon as possible.
April 1, 10:44 a.m.: Evers Deploys National Guard To Help At Polls
Gov. Tony Evers is deploying the National Guard to help staff polling sites for Wisconsin's presidential primary. The election also features a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local races.
Election clerks say poll workers are quitting in droves in fear of contracting the coronavirus during Tuesday's election. More than 100 municipalities have reported they lack enough people to staff even one polling site.
Democratic Evers told a federal judge in a filing Wednesday that he'll use Wisconsin Army National Guard members as poll workers. But Evers says even that likely won't fill all staffing needs.
At this point, Wisconsin National Guard Spokesperson Capt. Joe Trovato doesn't know the exact number of Guard members that will be called.
"I know there are a lot of discussions about exactly what the need will be. But certainly, we have a very large pool of personnel and resources on which to draw and we'll be ready to staff that as needed," Trovato said.
He says the Guard members will work at polling stations in their home county and follow instructions of the local election officials.
-Associated Press, Chuck Quirmbach
April 1, 9:05 a.m.: Festa Italiana Canceled, Polish Fest Postponed
Festa Italiana announced Tuesday that its 2020 festival is canceled. The Italian Community Center Board of Directors said canceling the three-day event was the "responsible course of action to take."
In a release, Festa's Director Joseph Emanuele said, "The [coronavirus] has impacted virtually every business and industry across the country. The health and safety of our employees, volunteers, vendors, members and certainly our attendees are our highest priority to ensure a safe environment for everyone."
The festival said it will "return to its glory bigger and better than ever in 2021."
Polish Fest also announced Tuesday that it's postponing its 2020 festival.
"We have been informed by Milwaukee World Festival/Summerfest that the grounds will not be available to open and host our festival for our dates of June 12-14," Polish Fest said Facebook post.
March 31, 7:31 p.m.: Wisconsin Court Tells Clerk To Take Down Voter ID Advice
The conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered a Democratic clerk to take down advice telling people seeking absentee ballots online how to get around voter ID requirements.
People seeking absentee ballots online are required to upload photo identification. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell had advised applicants who can't upload photos to get around the requirement by declaring themselves indefinitely confined. Such voters are exempt from the identification mandate.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a restraining order against McDonell directing him to remove the advice from his Facebook page and refrain from posting it again.
March 31, 7:20 p.m.: Milwaukee County Braces For Uptick In Cases
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele told reporters Tuesday that cases of the coronavirus are expected to peak in Wisconsin by the end of April.
To prepare for the uptick in cases, Dr. Benjamin Weston, Milwaukee County's emergency medical services director, said hospitals are converting normal beds to Intensive Care Unit beds and are repurposing nonclinical spaces to handle coronavirus cases.
The city of Greenfield's fire chief, Jon Cohn, along with others throughout the briefing, talked about 911 calls. He stressed individuals should examine if they truly need to contact 911. Many of the calls being placed, Cohn said, can be addressed by primary doctors and urgent care centers.
Cohn said that fire departments around Milwaukee County are working together to address calls by providing mental health services and support for first responders and medical staff.
March 31, 4:09 p.m.: Milwaukee Cuts In-Person Voting Locations From 180 To Less Than 12
The city of Milwaukee will drastically reduce the number of voting locations open during the April 7 election due to a severe shortage of poll workers amid the coronavirus crisis.
There are usually 180 neighborhood polling places open during Milwaukee elections. But Milwaukee Election Commission Director Neil Albrecht told reporters Tuesday that voting sites will be consolidated to less than 12 for next week's primary. He said the sites have yet to be determined and will be announced later this week.
The city needs about 1,400 poll workers, but many have dropped out because they are concerned about the risks of COVID-19 infection. Albrecht said earlier this week the city was down to 400 election workers.
Fewer polling locations could lead to large numbers of voters crowding into one space, which goes against federal and state health officials’ guidance to limit social gatherings to less than 10 people.
“We’re very concerned about that in terms of the community gathering of a voting site on Election Day being contradictory to public health guidelines,” Albrecht said. “But at this point, by state law, we have to make some model of in-person voting available to the public.”
Albrecht is strongly encouraging Milwaukee residents to use two alternatives to in-person Election Day voting: drive-thru early voting at the Zeidler Municipal Building and mail-in voting. More information on those options is available here.
March 31, 3:28 p.m.: Voluntary Isolation Centers To Open In Milwaukee, Madison
Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that the Wisconsin State Emergency Operations Center is opening two voluntary self-isolation facilities on Wednesday to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. One will be at a Super 8 hotel in Milwaukee; the other at the Lowell Center in Madison.
“They will provide a valuable resource for those who have mild symptoms of COVID-19, leaving valuable hospital space available for others who need it, and they also provide a safe place for people to stay so they don’t spread COVID-19 to others," he said in a press release.
Those suspected to have COVID-19 and those who have confirmed cases can voluntarily stay at the sites but must be referred by a medical provider or public health official. They can expect to stay 14 days or 72 hours after symptoms dissipate, according to the press release.
Wellness checks on the site will be done by phone every four hours, during the day and at night if needed.
If you think you have COVID-19 based on typical symptoms — fever, dry cough, tightness of chest, and fatigue —you should call your medical provider. They can help instruct you on whether you need to get tested or self-isolate at home.
For communities outside of Madison and Milwaukee seeking to open voluntary self-isolation centers, here are guidelines.
March 31, 2:26 p.m.: Evers Requests Presidential Disaster Declaration For Wisconsin
Gov. Tony Evers requested Tuesday that the Trump administration declare a major disaster for the state of Wisconsin. The declaration would help the state tackle the coronavirus pandemic with the assistance of additional public programs, including public assistance, direct assistance, statewide hazard mitigation, and crisis counseling.
“By seeking this declaration, we are hopeful the state will be able to access critical programs that are needed to deal with the pandemic now, and with the recovery that will be taking place down the road," Evers said in a press release.
Wisconsin has more than 1,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far. Cases are expected to rise in the coming weeks.
“The response to this outbreak has caused multiple deaths, exhausted many of our resources, resulted in record unemployment claims, and taken a toll on the community infrastructure that is in place to protect the public. We need federal assistance to help rebuild those critical safety nets and ensure they remain strong,” Evers said.
The declaration would cover all 72 counties in Wisconsin, including federally recognized tribes.
March 31, 12:31 p.m. Wisconsin Unemployment Claims Hit Daily High
Unemployment claims in Wisconsin since the coronavirus outbreak hit a daily high on Monday, with more than 24,600 people filing for benefits.
That brings the total number of preliminary unemployment filings since March 15 to nearly 222,000. That is 17-times higher then roughly 13,000 claims that were filed over the same period last year.
The state Department of Workforce Development said that last week it received more than 1.5 million calls, including more than 160 per-second at times on Thursday.
The agency is asking people filing for unemployment benefits to do it online rather than over the phone. The department said it is working to increase staff and technology capacity to deal with the flood in calls.
Gov. Tony Evers has said the agency needs at least 80 more workers to handle the increase in calls. Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature are working on an aid package for the state to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
March 31, 11:49 a.m.: Wisconsin Lawmakers Warned Of Medicaid Enrollment Spike
Wisconsin's health secretary is warning lawmakers that Medicaid enrollment is expected to increase dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic, requiring the Legislature to take swift action to bolster the program that serves more than 1 million poor, elderly and disabled people.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm sent the warning to the co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee on Tuesday. She said the pandemic “is likely to significantly increase Medicaid expenditures” through June 2021.
Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature are discussing a state aid package to complement an estimated $2.2 billion coming the state’s way as part of the federal stimulus.
March 31, 10:36 a.m.: Tourism-Dependent Counties In Wisconsin Hard Hit By Coronavirus
Wisconsin’s economy will be harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic in areas where there is more tourism, a study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum released on Tuesday said.
The study found that counties that depend heavily on tourism face the greatest challenges due to the concentration of jobs related to hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation. The virus outbreak has forced closures of nonessential businesses across the state, including many that rely on tourists like water parks in Wisconsin Dells, professional and collegiate sporting events and historical sites throughout the state.
The forum’s report said in six tourism-dependent counties, at least one out of every four jobs is in a sector heavily impacted by closures due to the virus. That includes Adams County, which covers a portion of the Wisconsin Dells area, Door County and Walworth County, which includes the Lake Geneva area. The other three are Vilas, Bayfield and Sawyer counties.
The longer the current economic situation lasts, the more it will affect summer tourism, particularly in counties where that is the majority of their tourism season, the report said.
In the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, Milwaukee and Madison, large numbers of workers are affected, even though their share of jobs in the affected sectors is not as large as other more tourism-dependent counties, the report said.
March 31, 9:18 a.m.: Wisconsin Municipalities Lack Enough Workers For In-Person Voting
A new report indicates more than 100 municipalities lack enough poll workers to offer any in-person voting on Election Day. The Wisconsin Elections Commission released documents Tuesday that include findings from a survey of local clerks preparing to run Wisconsin's spring election on April 7 in the face of the coronavirus.
The survey found 111 municipalities are short 671 poll workers, leaving them too-short handed to offer in-person voting at the polls. Another 126 municipalities are short 2,713 poll workers, leaving them unable to staff all their polling sites. The municipalities are spread across the state.
March 31, 9:07 a.m.: Should More People Be Wearing Masks? The Medical College Of Wisconsin CEO Thinks So
The president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin says he’d like to see more people wearing surgical masks in public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. John Raymond answered questions during two webinars Monday. He says there’s no question that frontline medical providers should continue to wear the masks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. But Raymond says when he’s making essential trips in the community, he sees people in jobs — like postal carriers, sanitation and restaurant food workers — who can’t practice adequate social distancing.
“I am concerned about them, and my own personal belief is we should be getting masks. If we’re going to have them in the general public, we need to get them first to the people who are interacting with the public in meaningful ways,” Raymond said.
Raymond’s not alone. Some other U.S. doctors and a few politicians are also asking the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its guidance and recommend that more than just caregivers and ill people wear masks. Raymond says new guidance seems likely.
“I believe the CDC is probably going to change their recommendations in the coming weeks. The Chinese CDC has already said we should be wearing masks,” he said.
Raymond says there’s a growing belief that any mask is better than none, and that even some of the homemade cloth masks offer some small amount of protection.
Other medical experts say they worry that people will put on a mask and go out in public for nonessential trips, increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
March 30, 4:38 p.m.: Democratic Lawmakers Call For Racial Data In Virus Testing
Democratic lawmakers are calling out an apparent lack of racial data that they say is needed to monitor and address disparities in the national response to the coronavirus outbreak. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley say in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar dated Friday that comprehensive demographic data on people who are tested or treated for the coronavirus does not exist.
Cities with large black and nonwhite Hispanic populations have emerged as new hot spots for the virus. As of last Friday, African Americans in Milwaukee have been the most affected by the new coronavirus, with a majority of positive cases in black neighborhoods on the city's north side.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly also signed the letter.
-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson
March 30, 3:27 p.m.: Wisconsin Unemployment Calls Mushroomed Last Week Due To Coronavirus
The Monday afternoon Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) briefing gave a closer look at the toll the coronavirus pandemic and related business shutdowns have taken on employees in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers said last week, more than 115,000 new preliminary unemployment insurance applications were filed with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). A state call center for unemployment insurance received 1.5 million calls during that time, an increase of 6,208% over their average weekly call volume.
"Just to underscore how significant the need is for these benefits, " Evers said. "Last Thursday, DWD received 400,000 calls between 6 and 10 a.m. The system was not built to handle this call volume."
He says the state is working to increase the call center's capacity, and now allows 690 simultaneous calls. Thirty-five staff members have been added to the center, bringing the total to 92. But Evers says DWD needs at least 80 more workers "to help triage calls for unemployment."
Evers called on state lawmakers to help him eliminate the state's one-week waiting period before people can start receiving unemployment benefits. Evers, a Democrat, says he continues to reach out to Republican leaders who control the Legislature to come into session.
March 30, 1:55 p.m.: Waukesha Will Only Have 1 Polling Place Open On Election Day
The city of Waukesha announced Monday that it will only have one polling place open on April 7 due to a lack of poll workers. Schuetze Recreation Center, which is located at 1120 Baxter Street in Waukesha, will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Election Day.
Typically, Waukesha has 15 polling places open on Election Day.
Due to a lack of available poll workers, on Election Day, April 7, the City will have only one Election polling location - Schuetze Recreation Center, 1120 Baxter Street. All residents are asked please vote absentee by mail. Read the full election update: https://t.co/gLgl44KZU4 pic.twitter.com/V0c03CDghZ— cityofwaukesha (@CityofWaukesha) March 30, 2020
March 30, 12:01 p.m.: Evers Announces Public-Private COVID-19 Testing Partnership
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers announced Wisconsin industries will help bolster the state's capacity to test for COVID-19. Laboratories, including Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega, and UW Health, will add their expertise, resources, and technology to efforts being led by the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab.
The existing network has been averaging 1,500 to 2,000 tests per day. According to Evers’ office, the new public-private partnership is expected to double that capacity initially, and expand as additional platforms and supplies become available.
"Just like during the H1N1 outbreak, we knew testing for this virus would require assets beyond the state lab [of Hygiene at UW-Madison]. And for this response, that has taken the form of a strong partnership between government and some of the best and brightest minds in business and technology," said state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm during a Monday news conference.
Evers added a cautionary note: "While I am excited to announce these critical partnerships that will increase our capacity to fight this outbreak in Wisconsin, there are still very real challenges to obtaining supplies of critical laboratory materials. We are working day and night to reinforce our sources of these supplies.”
-Susan Bence, Chuck Quirmbach
March 30, 8:08 a.m.: St. Francis Seminary Building To House Homeless
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced Sunday that people who are homeless and especially vulnerable to the coronavirus will be housed in a vacant seminary building in Saint Francis. Barrett said the city and county have worked with the Milwaukee Archdiocese to set up a building on the Saint Francis de Sales seminary grounds as temporary housing during the public health crisis.
March 30, 7:51 a.m.: Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Hit Hard By Coronavirus
The coronavirus has delivered a severe blow to Wisconsin dairy farmers who rely on selling milk to restaurants, schools and the hospitality industry. The Journal Sentinel reports about one-third of Wisconsin dairy products, mainly cheese, are sold in the food service trade.
Farmers say the coronavirus outbreak has caused milk prices to drop to unprofitable levels this spring, at a time when money is needed for the upcoming planting season. Dairy farmers are worried about processing plants closing or cutting production, forcing them to dump milk.
March 30, 7:49 a.m.: Wisconsin Elections Commission Won't Investigate 2 County Clerks
The Wisconsin Elections Commission will not investigate two county clerks for encouraging absentee voters staying home because of the coronaviorus outbreak to use a provision to avoid the state's photo ID requirement.
The commission deadlocked 3-3 Sunday on motions that would have tabled investigations into the two clerks while warning them that their use of indefinite confinement violated state elections laws.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports motions by Democratic members to do away with the proposed investigations entirely also failed along party lines. No one on the commission then proposed investigations, so the issue appears moot.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson have encouraged voters to indicate on their absentee ballot they are indefinitely confined due to the coronavirus pandemic.
-Chuck Quirmbach, Associated Press
March 30, 7:43 a.m.: Evers To Buy 10,000 Ventilators, 1 Million Masks
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration is moving ahead with plans to buy 10,000 ventilators and 1 million protective masks in the fight against the coronavirus.
The effort comes after Evers' administration had clashed with Republican lawmakers over whether he needed their permission to make such purchases. GOP leaders contended he already had that power after Evers gave them a bill calling for spending more than $700 million to help care for thousands of sick and jobless people in Wisconsin.
Evers' chief of staff said Saturday night that the administration has been making smaller purchases and will now move forward with the large purchase of ventilators and masks.
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.