Coronavirus: Milwaukee Ends Early Voting; All Utility Disconnections Halted

Mar 20, 2020

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):

  • 5 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Four people lived in the state, one person was visiting. The state's official count is four deaths.
  • Wisconsin has at least 381 confirmed cases.
  • Milwaukee County has 202 confirmed cases, 152 of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee. This is according to reports from the county.

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March 23, 9:00 a.m.: Evers Halts All Utility Disconnections

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has issued an emergency order halting all utility disconnections for nonpayment for all customers — including commercial, industrial and farm accounts. Ten days ago, the governor had suspended disconnections for residential accounts.

The order, implemented through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), also directs regulated utilities in the state to cease assessing late fees to customer accounts, halt the practice of requiring deposits from customers for reconnection of service, allow deferred payment agreements for all customers who request them, remove any administrative barriers for customers establishing or reestablishing utility service, and authorize water utilities to provide budget billing arrangements to customers (electric and natural gas utilities are allowed to do this ).

Sunday’s order lasts until the state public health emergency, due the COVID-19 pandemic, has been lifted.

In a press release, PSC Chairperson Rebecca Valcq said: “This is a difficult time for many. We’re asking that those who are able to pay their utility bills, please continue to do so. For those who can’t, Sunday’s order allows them to remain connected.”

Tom Content, executive director of The Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, released this statement: “The action broadening this stoppage of disconnections to businesses and farms makes sense given the abrupt halt taking place across much of the economy. We hope that utilities will now take further steps to help customers get through this by being flexible with payment plans and moving quickly to reconnect customers who are shut off.”

-Chuck Quirmbach

March 22, 9:10 p.m.: End To Early Voting In Milwaukee

In an effort to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission says it immediately is putting a stop to in-person absentee voting, also known as “early” voting.

The option had been offered at three locations: Zablocki Library, the Zeidler Municipal Building and Midtown Center. The Election Commission says it’s unable to “maintain sufficient staffing levels to operate these sites in a manner that would ensure a safe or efficient public voting experience.”

In a statement Sunday night, the Election Commission said the decision to end early voting was “exceptionally difficult,” but that “a critical balance must be achieved between access to voting and the health of election workers and the public.”

The Election Commission pointed out that city residents still can vote absentee by requesting an absentee ballot be mailed to their home, by visiting myvotewi.gov or calling 414-286-VOTE. In addition, people can register to vote online beginning Tuesday, March 24. The option had been suspended, but on Friday a court ordered that it be reinstated.

-Ann-Elise Henzl

March 22, 8:01 p.m.: Fifth COVD-19 Death In Wisconsin

In an email to WUWM Sunday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) said the fourth official Wisconsin death from COVID-19 was a male in his 30s from Milwaukee County.

On Saturday, Milwaukee County authorities reported a 69-year-old man had also died. The man has since been identified as Lenard Wells, a longtime advocate for African Americans in the Milwaukee Police Department, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

On Facebook, Rep. Gwen Moore said Wells "epitomized what it meant to be a public servant: serving in Milwaukee’s Police Department for 27 years and practicing compassionate, community-led policing. After retiring, he then used his education and knowledge gained from his extensive career to teach others in academia about criminal justice."

Wells traveled to Wisconsin from out of state. He had been a criminal justice instructor at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn. since 2013.

DHS does not include Wells' death in the state's official count. DHS says: "At this point, deaths from COVID-19 in Wisconsin have occurred in Fond du Lac, Ozaukee, and Milwaukee Counties. The first death was a male in his 50s from Fond Du Lac County. The second death was a male in his 90s from Ozaukee County. The third death was a male in his 60s from Milwaukee County. The fourth death, also in Milwaukee County is a male in his 30s."

-Michelle Maternowski, Chuck Quirmbach

March 22, 7:47 p.m.: Wisconsin Supreme Court Postpones All Jury Trials, Suspends In-Person Hearings

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has postponed all jury trials and halted in-person proceedings statewide in favor of phone and video appearances, with limited exceptions, in an effort to protect the public, attorneys, court staff, and judges from the health risks associated with COVID-19.

All state courts remain open and continue to operate. However, trials that were scheduled to begin between now and May 22 will be rescheduled after that date.

Five justices agreed to postpone trials, with Justices Rebecca Bradley and Daniel Kelly dissenting. The Court today also postponed oral arguments that were scheduled for March 30 and April 1.

-Maayan Silver

March 22, 2:21 p.m.: Wisconsin Nearing 400 Confirmed Cases Of COVID-19; Evers Asks For Federal Help

Sunday afternoon, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported four deaths and 381 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — up 100 cases from Saturday.

Also, Gov. Tony Evers is asking federal officials for help in obtaining tens of thousands additional pieces of protective equipment as the state continues to grapple with the coronavirus. Evers announced Saturday that he has directed the state emergency managment officials to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help the state obtain 50,000 masks, 10,000 face shields, 11,000 coveralls, 3,000 N95 masks and 35,000 pairs of protective gloves. The gear is meant for first responders.

- Michelle Maternowski, Associated Press

March 21, 3:40 p.m.: State Of Wisconsin Tax Deadline Extended

Following an IRS decision this week to delay the federal tax deadline from April 15 to July 15, the state of Wisconsin has followed suit. Saturday, Gov. Tony Evers directed the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to extend the state tax filing deadline to that same date.

In a press release, the Revenue Department said:

  • Tax filers do not have to file any extension forms to be eligible for this new due date.
  • There is no limit on the amount of payment to be postponed, and there are no income exclusions.
  • The extension applies to individuals, trusts, estates, partnerships, associations, companies or corporations.
  • The relief is solely for income tax payments, estimated payments and returns due April 15, 2020.
  • There will be no interest or penalty for the period of April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020.
  • Interest, penalties, and underpayment interest for failure to make quarterly estimated tax payments for federal tax filings will begin to accrue July 16, 2020.

Roughly half of Wisconsin taxpayers have already filed their returns, Revenue Secretary Peter Barca says. He says the state will continue to process returns and issue refunds and other credits, such as the Homestead Credit and Earned Income Credit.

-Chuck Quirmbach

March 21, 11:52 a.m.: Milwaukee County Officials Report Wisconsin's Fourth COVID-19 Death

Milwaukee County authorities say a 69-year-old man who traveled to Wisconsin from out of state has died from the coronavirus, raising the total number of state deaths from the virus to four.

He died Saturday. The county medical examiner's office says the man reported to Milwaukee County Hospital on March 14 complaining of shortness of breath. The man had chronic health issues. It's unclear why he came to Milwaukee.

-Associated Press

March 21, 8:13 a.m.: Judge Reinstates Online Voter Registration

A federal judge has ordered that Wisconsin reinstate online voter registration to make it possible for more people to cast absentee ballots ahead of the April 7 presidential primary and spring election. The ruling Friday night was a partial victory for Democrats who had sought even broader changes in light of the coronavirus pandemic a partial victory.

U.S. District Judge William Conley issued the ruling hours after both sides submitted written arguments. The state and national Democratic parties brought the lawsuit and were opposed by Republicans who control the state Legislature as well as the Wisconsin and national Republican parties.

-Associated Press

March 20, 7:55 p.m.: Milwaukee Police Request Masks & Other Protective Gear Donations

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales is asking local businesses to donate protective gear to help keep officers safe during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Last week, prior to the state of Wisconsin declaring a state of emergency, we ordered a surplus of personal protective equipment. We are currently awaiting the arrival of that equipment. However, we expect that we won't receive it for several months," he said in a video.

Here's the list of requested equipment: 

  • N95 masks
  • Disposable protective coverall safety suits
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Eye glasses/goggles
  • Isolation gowns
  • Hand sanitizer

If you're willing and able to donate, you can send an email to supportmpd@milwaukee.gov with information on the supplies.

-Lauren Sigfusson

March 20, 3:20 p.m.: Evers Orders Hair, Nail Salons Close

Evers updated his emergency order limiting public gatherings to direct all hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, tanning salons, day spas, tattoo parlors and body art establishments to close by 5 p.m. Friday. 

-Emily Files

March 20, 2:25 p.m.: Officials Urge People To Stay Home, Warn More Deaths

A day after Wisconsin confirmed its first deaths from COVID-19, state officials urged residents of all ages to stay home and warned that more deaths will come.

As of Friday afternoon, there are three confirmed deaths from the virus and 206 positive tests in Wisconsin, according to the state health department. The deaths include a 66-year-old Milwaukee man, a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County, and a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Health Secretary Designee Andrea Palm are asking Wisconsin residents of all ages to stay home as much as possible.

“We know that COVID-19 will affect thousands of Wisconsinites,” Palm said. “Most of these illnesses will be mild, but for others, including our most vulnerable, outcomes will be more severe. Sadly, these deaths won't be our only deaths. We will see more."

Palm explicitly says it's important for young people to practice social distancing and stay at home. Even though they may not suffer the same complications from coronavirus as older adults, young people can carry and spread the disease to others.

“While most cases of COVID-19 have been among people older than 50, younger people, particularly those between 18 and 30 years of age, aren’t immune to COVID-19,” Palm said. "Anyone can contract the virus. And it’s as important for young and healthy people to heed the orders requiring social distancing as it is for the rest of us.”

Evers says he doesn't think he would have to issue a "shelter in place" order as California and Illinois did this week. 

“I believe that we'll be able to avoid that," Evers said. "People in the state of Wisconsin are taking this seriously. We continue to encourage them to stay at home. I know other states are doing that, we will follow the science on that."

“All the things we’re talking about to limit the size of the epidemic are to save peoples’ lives and prevent people from dying because we don’t have enough resources." - Wisconsin DHS Chief Medical Officer Ryan Westergaard

The officials say personal protective equipment (like face masks and gloves) provided so far to Wisconsin by the Strategic National Stockpile isn't enough to meet the needs of health care workers in the state. Palm says there are currently about 620 ventilators and 2,500 ICU hospital beds in the state, and officials are investigating how many more might be needed.

Health officials said the demand for ICU beds and ventilators will depend on the steps Wisconsinsites take now to socially distance, practice good hygiene and limit nonessential travel.

“The stakes are really high, that’s the message we want the public to hear,” said Wisconsin DHS Chief Medical Officer Ryan Westergaard. “All the things we’re talking about to limit the size of the epidemic are to save peoples’ lives and prevent people from dying because we don’t have enough resources.” 

-Emily Files

Editor's Note: An earlier version of the headline said "30-Year-Old Male," rather than "Male In His 30s." This has been corrected.

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.

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