Coronavirus: Wisconsin Now Has 8 Confirmed Cases; Evers Declares Health Emergency

For the most up-to-date information, read WUWM's March 18 coronavirus post.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. CT

As of Thursday afternoon, state health officials say Wisconsin now has eight confirmed cases of the coronavirus. This is up from the six reported cases announced Wednesday.

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"As we see more cases, we remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent the spread of infection to others in the community," said State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers. “These cases should serve to remind all of us about the importance of social distancing and maintaining good hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Health officials say the two new cases were confirmed in Dane County. Both individuals had been in contact with another person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease contracted from the coronavirus, from earlier this week. Both are in isolation. The first person in Wisconsin was diagnosed in early February and has since recovered. 

On Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers also declared a public health emergency in Wisconsin. The public health emergency helps free up resources to respond to its growing threat. Meanwhile, public events across the state are being canceled or restricted in light of the virus.

"The risk to the majority of Wisconsinites remains low. That said, we can all do our parts to help prevent the spread of the illness to others," Evers said.

Evers said in a statement that the state needs to perform “extensive contract tracing” to contain the spread of COVID-19. Almost 40 residents will be returning to Wisconsin from a Princess cruise ship, Evers said, where they may have been exposed to the virus.

Evers' order allows the state Department of Health Services to buy appropriate medications to respond to the virus, and authorizes state money to support local health departments. It also frees up money for the Wisconsin National Guard, if needed.

Evers said he's keeping in mind people who are homeless and others who need help getting food.

"We have tens of thousands of folks in Wisconsin, including kids and older adults, who rely on schools and non-profits in order to get their meals. Ensuring those folks are taken care of is a top priority," Evers said. "I'm also deeply concerned about homeless individuals and other vulnerable individuals in our communities. Our team will continue to work with our partners around the state to make sure we support those folks who need our help."

"We're at a [crucial] moment. A couple cases could easily become many cases." - Andrea Palm, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Wisconsin DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said her agency recommends canceling all events involving more than 250 people. That recommendation doesn't extend to K-12 public schools, although schools will have to use different “tools and tactics" to keep student gatherings small.

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Palm added that people should stock up on at least two weeks' worth of supplies in their homes in case they become sick and have to quarantine themselves.

“We're at a [crucial] moment,” Palm said. “A couple cases could easily become many cases. We have an inflection point now to lean in. We recognize that is not without some cost to individual lives.”

Evers urges people to vote by absentee ballot as the state's April 7 president primary approaches. And he said people should stop shaking hands to prevent the spread of the virus.

“ 'Wisconsin nice' is going to have to have a different look to it in the future,” Evers said.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4,300 have died.

But the vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

In addition, President Donald Trump's campaign has canceled an event in Wisconsin next week because of the coronavirus. The “Catholics for Trump” event was scheduled for March 19 in Milwaukee.

Reelection campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh tweeted the cancellation was made “out of an abundance of caution because of the coronavirus outbreak.” Murtaugh said the event will be rescheduled.

At the Wisconsin Capitol, the state Department of Administration announced Thursday that it was canceling all formal tours of the state Capitol in Madison until further notice. The building remains open to the public, at least for now.