Gov. Tony Evers urged people throughout Wisconsin on Tuesday to “get on the same team” by taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, with cases statewide at their highest numbers since the pandemic started.
“We are in crisis right now,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin's chief medical officer.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin recorded its highest single-day increase in deaths from COVID-19 since May. The state's seven-day average in new confirmed cases was three times higher than a month ago and Wisconsin ranked third in new cases per capita over the past two weeks.
The number of people hospitalized, 640, was also an all-time high and an increase of 207 from seven days earlier. Hospitals in Green Bay and elsewhere in the state said they were near capacity.
Evers blamed President Donald Trump and state Republican leaders who have challenged his efforts to slow the virus by downplaying the severity of the crisis. Trump on Saturday is scheduled to hold campaign rallies in Green Bay and La Crosse, which both have high rates of new cases.
Evers said at a news conference that Trump should either not come or should insist that everyone who attends the events wear masks so they don't become super-spreader events.
“We have to have people who believe that this is not a hoax, that this is a real thing and that people are dying from this disease," Evers said. “It's unacceptable that we just blow it off. We need leadership at the national level that are consistent in this effort. ... We have to have people in charge talk the truth.”
The surge in cases in Wisconsin has led to schools that previously were open to in-person teaching going virtual at least for the short term.
Evers said that although cases are being reported in schools, districts are “doing a good job” and they are not to blame for the surge. He remained committed to letting schools decide whether to remain open rather than issuing a statewide order shutting them down, like he did in the spring.
“People have to recognize this is not about the schools, we’re operating under community spread here," Evers said. "We can solve this with the tools we have in place.”
As of Tuesday, nearly 120,000 people in the state had tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. There have been 1,300 deaths, up by 17 since Monday. The death count is the 30th highest in the country overall and the 42nd highest per capita, at 22 deaths per 100,000 people.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 984, an increase of 84%. There were 475 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, third highest per capita.
Wisconsin set a record for newly confirmed cases on Saturday, with 2,817. There were 2,367 new cases reported Tuesday. On Sunday, the state broke its record for percentage of tests that came back positive, at 27%. By comparison, the national rate for positive tests was 4.5% as of Monday.
The seven-day average of new cases was 2,255, up from 684 month ago, said Andrea Palm, secretary of the state Department of Health Services.
“With this surge in cases, our health care system is feeling the strain,” she said. “We slowed the spread before because we all acted together and now is the time to do it again.”
The surge in early September was fueled by cases among people aged 18-24, said Palm. Cases in that age group are slowing, but they are not in other age groups, she said.
Evers and Palm urged people to avoid crowds, wear a mask when in public, keep a distance of at least six feet, frequently wash hands and only leave him when necessary. Evers also called on people not to hold parties, eat restaurant food outside or take out and avoid any other gathering of people.
Spread of the virus will not get under control “until we all get on the same team," Evers said.
“We have to be patient and we have to work together,” Evers said. “No party, no gathering, no bar is worth it.”