Coronavirus: Festa Italiana Canceled, Polish Fest Postponed

Mar 30, 2020

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):

  • 22 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (state and Milwaukee County reports) — 12 of those deaths were in Milwaukee County.
  • Wisconsin has at least 1,351 confirmed cases.
  • Milwaukee County has 776 confirmed cases, 616 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."

>>The Latest WUWM & NPR Coronavirus Coverage
>>WUWM Coronavirus Blog: March 23-29
>>Coronavirus: Milwaukee-Area Higher Education Updates
>>Coronavirus: Milwaukee-Area K-12 School Updates

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.

-Michelle Maternowski

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.

-Associated Press

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.

-Olivia Richardson

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.

-Emily Files

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.

>>Learn more here.

-Olivia Richardson

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.

-Olivia Richardson

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.

-Associated Press

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.

-Associated Press

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.

-Associated Press

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.

>>LISTEN: April 7 Poll Worker Shortage Worries Some Wisconsin Election Commissioners

-Associated Press

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.

-Chuck Quirmbach

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.

-Chuck Quirmbach

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.

-Lauren Sigfusson

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.

>>Read the full story here.

-Emily Files

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.

-Associated Press

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

>>Ahead Of April 7 Election: Milwaukee Pollworker Shortages, Demand For Absentee Ballots

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.

-Associated Press

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.