Milwaukee-Area Coronavirus Updates: April 6-12

Apr 6, 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):

  • 144 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (state and Milwaukee County reports) — 88 of those deaths were in Milwaukee County.
  • Wisconsin has at least 3,314 confirmed cases.
  • Milwaukee County has 1,725 confirmed cases, 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 30-April 5
>>Coronavirus: Milwaukee-Area Higher Education Updates
>>Coronavirus: Milwaukee-Area K-12 School Updates

April 10, 6:16 p.m.: $500,000 Will Help Those Hardest Hit By COVID-19 In Milwaukee County

In an online news conference Friday afternoon, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele began what has become a tragic ritual by sharing the latest numbers: 1,634 confirmed COVID-19 cases that have resulted in 75 deaths. The majority of those afflicted with the virus in Milwaukee County are African American residents.

“Well over half of the deaths are African American. This is a stark, stark illustration of what we’ve been talking about a lot,” Abele said. “We need to do more than just flag this.”

Officials hope a $500,000 grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin will help better inform the public about COVID-19.

Nicole Brookshire, director of the Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs, says some of the funding will help create messaging designed to drive the public health message home. Brookshire issued an appeal to the community, especially young people. 

“There will be a small focus group. So I’m asking outwardly if there are youth who want to have your voice heard, it matters," Brookshire said. "We want to your voice to be heard because with your voice we can make change. Now is the time.”

Brookshire asked interested community members to reach out to her office or visit stayhomemke.com.

- Susan Bence

April 10, 4:31 p.m.: Wisconsin DHS Takes Steps To Expand COVID-19 Testing

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is relaxing requirements to allow more patients to be tested for COVID-19.

According to DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, this is because the state has more capacity for testing than the number of tests providers have been ordering. There are 20 active labs running COVID-19 tests in Wisconsin with a daily lab capacity of 3,756. 

“We have more capacity than demand right now,” DHS chief medical officer Ryan Westergaard said during a Friday news conference. “The guidance we’ve shared that might be different is that clinicians can not feel constrained in any way about ordering a test when they think it’s beneficial for a patient. If they think COVID-19 might be the diagnosis, they can feel free to order that test.”

The department is also trying to ease barriers for Wisconsin families to access food. Through funding from the Federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act, 215,000 households in the state will see an increase in their FoodShare benefits on April 12 and again on April 26.

Palm also addressed questions regarding an extension of the ‘Safer At Home’ order. The order currently runs through April 24.

“Until we have a vaccine, until we have medical intervention, we are going to have to very actively manage this outbreak, and Safer At Home is the current tool we are using.” Palm said. She didn’t put a specific timeframe on when the order would be lifted, in part, because the department is still trying to understand how much the state is flattening the curve of new infections, as well as looking at how other places are managing the virus.

- Teran Powell

April 10, 1:41 p.m.: GOP Lawmakers Lash Out Over COVID-19 Response

Two of the most conservative members of the Wisconsin Senate on Friday accused state health officials of stoking fear over the coronavirus and warned that extending a stay-at-home order into May could lead to civil disobedience.

Republican state Sens. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, and Duey Stroebel, of Cedarburg, issued separate statements that were both highly critical of how Gov. Tony Evers’ administration has reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stroebel called for a “fresh look” to re-evaluate policy choices and begin planning for “reopening our civil life.”

“Every sickness and death is a tragedy, but so are businesses and livelihoods ruined by shelter in place orders,” he said. “Besides being counterproductive, indefinite sheltering orders will eventually lead to civil disobedience.”

Nass released a letter he sent to a state Department of Natural Resources official about Evers’ decision to close 40 state parks and recreational areas. Nass accused Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm of promoting “excessive levels of fear.” He also said state health officials told lawmakers that they want to see safer-at-home restrictions extended for up to six months.

Evers has not said whether he will seek to extend his current order, which runs through April 24. He had asked the Legislature to allow his original public health emergency declaration to continue indefinitely. Without such an extension, the Legislature would have to renew it in early May.

- Associated Press

April 10, 12:21 p.m.: Milwaukee German Fest Canceled Due To Coronavirus 

Milwaukee German Fest is canceled for the first time in its 40-year history, according to a press release from the organization that puts on the event. It was scheduled for July 24-26.

Organizers say the event will be back in 2021. This follows the cancelation or postponement of other big summer events, including Summerfest, Polish Fest, Festa Italiana and PrideFest.

- Emily Files

April 10, 12:05 p.m.: Evers Asks Retired Healthcare Workers To Volunteer During Pandemic

Gov. Tony Evers is asking retired healthcare workers and others who want to support Wisconsin’s healthcare system during the coronavirus pandemic to sign up for assignments through a new volunteer registry.

In a press release Friday, Evers said the number of COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin is expected to surge in the coming weeks and that creating a network of available volunteers will “reduce the hardships on hospitals and clinics that would not normally have the capacity to care for the increase in patients.”

Evers said people who are not licensed healthcare professionals are also encouraged to register to help in non-clinical support positions.

- Emily Files

April 10, 11:47 a.m.: ACLU Takes Prisoner Release Case To Wisconsin Supreme Court

A lawsuit is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to release elderly and vulnerable inmates from the state prisons who would be at greatest risk from the coronavirus outbreak.

Two inmates with preexisting conditions joined together with Disability Rights Wisconsin and criminal defense attorneys on Friday's lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin says the release is necessary to avoid inmates stricken with COVID-19 flooding hospitals in communities where prisons are located.

“Right now Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons are a ticking time bomb that threatens the health of all Wisconsinites, especially people of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration,” Chris Ott, the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin said in a statement.

The ACLU wants the court to order Gov. Tony Evers and state corrections officials to reduce prison populations to a level where social distancing is possible. The action mirrors similar moves in states across the country by the ACLU and others.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Evers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

- Associated Press, Emily Files

April 10, 11:06 a.m.: Wisconsin Hospitals Report Shortages Of PPE

More than half of Wisconsin's 133 hospitals reported on Friday that they have less than a one week supply of goggles and gowns worn when treating coronavirus patients.

More than a third of hospitals are also reporting they have less than a week's worth of face shields, N95 masks and paper medical masks, according to a Wisconsin Hospitals Association website.

Wisconsin, like many other states, faces a shortage of personal protective equipment vital to health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients. Gov. Tony Evers and members of his administration have said that supplies they are receiving from the national stockpile will not come close to meeting the need.

They are searching for other sources besides the federal government to get health care workers what they need. The Hospital Association is also reporting that there are 368 COVID-19 patients on ventilators in the state. 

- Associated Press

April 9, 1:02 p.m.: Health Care Facility Being Constructed At Wisconsin State Fair Park

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday that the Army Corps of Engineers is building an alternative care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park. The facility will house the overflow of coronavirus cases from all over the region.

“We are extremely appreciative of FEMA and the Army Corp of Engineers for their responsiveness as we continue to see an increase in the number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” said Evers in a news release. “This alternative care facility will be a critical addition to the southeastern region of our state and will be essential to continuing to ensure our healthcare systems are not overwhelmed.”

In the coming weeks, Wisconsin is projected to reach its peak need for beds and for cases leading to death due to COVID-19. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the facility should be seen as an insurance plan – one the city and county hope to never use. 

“I hope that we are all wrong. We hope the modeling is wrong and that social distancing is working, and we don’t have to use this facility but that’s a gamble with some pretty high stakes,” Barrett says.

The Army Corps of Engineers is challenged with constructing a site that operates much a like hospital but in a convention center. Construction should begin within four days.

-Olivia Richardson

April 9, 12:55 p.m.: Evers Will Allow Drive-Up Easter Services

Gov. Tony Evers will allow churches to offer drive-up services on Good Friday and Easter, his spokeswoman said on Thursday.

The conservative law firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and religious groups asked for clarity earlier Thursday.

“Our intention was always to ensure that people could still practice their faith while also following the public health and safety measures necessary to flatten the curve and keep folks safe,” said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.

Evers last week denied a request from Republican lawmakers asking him to roll back his safer-at-home order that doesn’t allow more than 10 people to gather for a church service.

Many churches have moved to broadcasting services online, while others have already been offering drive-up services.

“We are not asking law enforcement to supervise or take enforcement steps against religious gatherings,” Baldauff said. “Rather, law enforcement has been working hard to help congregations understand the order and take precautions to keep themselves and their members safe.”

-Associated Press

April 9, 9:20 a.m.: 40 State Parks, Forests, And Recreational Areas To Close 

Thursday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers directed the Department of Natural Resources to close 40 state parks, forests, and recreational areas at the end of the day. The press release stated that this is "due to unprecedented crowds, litter, vandalism and out of an abundance of caution to protect public health and safety and help flatten the [coronavirus] curve."

In the southeast region of the state, these parks, forests and recreational areas will be closed until further notice: Big Foot Beach State Park, Harrington Beach State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak, Loew Lake, Mukwonago River, Northern Unit, Pike Lake, Southern Unit, Lakeshore State Park, and Richard Bong State Recreational Area.

Evers said, “I wanted to keep state parks open for the public to enjoy during this challenging time ... Unfortunately, growing difficulty with ensuring social distancing compliance, dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are some of the challenges faced by our state parks staff. We have to address the growing public health and safety concern and protect Wisconsinites.”

The release also noted, "If the public does not follow social distancing guidelines and vandalizes property, more state parks may have to close."

-Michelle Maternowski

April 9, 7:33 a.m.: 7 House Of Correction Inmates Test Positive For COVID-19

Milwaukee County's House of Correction Superintendent Michael Hafemann said Wednesday that seven inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, two of them are hospitalized. The first case was confirmed in late March.

Hafemann says four House of Correction staff members also contracted the virus. Also, 21 employees are self-isolating at home.

Hafeman says he’s doing everything he can to try to mitigate the virus’ spread. When workers arrive for their shift their temperature is taken, and anyone with a fever is sent home. The inmates’ dormitories are being sanitized three times a day instead of once. 

“Common areas are cleaned twice a day since we have been involved with this outbreak. We have sufficient supplies – plenty of soap and sanitation for individuals to wash their hands and sanitation wipes. Staff do wear masks,” Hafemann says. “We’re trying to contain it to contain it to the few inmates we have at this time.”

-Michelle Maternowski, Susan Bence

April 9, 7:25 a.m.: Wisconsin Corrections Officials Don't Know How 3 More Inmates Got COVID-19

Wisconsin corrections officials say they don't know how three more inmates in the state's prison system contracted the coronavirus.

The Department of Corrections believes the first prisoner with a confirmed case of COVID-19 April 2 was exposed while on a trip outside the Columbia Correctional Institution.

On Sunday, the DOC confirmed three additional cases in the system. The three inmates had not left the prisons recently, according to DOC spokeswoman Anna Neal. One of the three cases is at Columbia where three employees have also tested positive.

The State Journal reports the other two inmates with COVID-19 are at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. No employees there have tested positive, so it’s unclear how the virus could have gotten into the prison.

-Associated Press

April 9, 7:20 a.m.: Wisconsin GOP Coronavirus Bill Sets Up Political Skirmish

Wisconsin Republicans have proposed sweeping legislation designed to help the state deal with the coronavirus but the measure looks destined to stall in a political fight with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The governor's office released a summary of the GOP proposal that shows the plan would give the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee the ability to make state budget cuts as it deems necessary and eliminate a raise for state workers next year if state revenues dip dramatically.

Evers says that provision must come out of the bill before he'll move forward on it.

-Associated Press

April 8, 6:34 p.m.: Wisconsin Coronavirus Cases May Peak Sooner Than Thought

Milwaukee County now has close to 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 59 deaths. But there was a glimmer of optimism during Wednesday's virtual press briefing by the county. 

The latest modeling from the University of Washington projects coronavirus cases will peak in Wisconsin sooner than previously thought. Ben Weston, medical director of Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, says if so, that could mean fewer cases and fewer people needing to be hospitalized.

“So, while this model seems to give room for hope that fewer in our community may get sick than previously thought and fewer may die, we must remember that this is one of many models,” Weston says.

He says all of the models being tracked are based on social distancing and Gov. Tony Evers' safer-at-home order.

“We should take the positive change in the Washington model to be a sign of encouragement. But encouragement for staying home, not an indication to loosen any restriction," Weston says. 

-Susan Bence

April 8, 7:32 a.m.: UW Hospital Joins COVID-19 Plasma Trial

University Hospital in Madison will join a national effort to transfuse antibodies from the plasma of people who recovered from the coronavirus to treat patient still struggling with it.

The technique is a century-old treatment used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the days before vaccines, and tried more recently against SARS and Ebola.

With no approved treatment for COVID-19 and more than 11,000 deaths in the U.S., the unproven approach offers some hope.

As of Tuesday night, Wisconsin reported more than 2,500 coronavirus infections and 92 related deaths — 49 of them in Milwaukee County.

“We know that antibody has neutralized the virus in one person,” said Dr. William Hartman, a UW Health anesthesiologist heading up the effort at UW Hospital, which is part of a national study. “We assume that the antibody will neutralize the virus in another person. It’s an extra boost to help fight off the infection.”

UW Hospital has joined the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, started about a month ago by Johns Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic and other institutions.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins, through which UW Hospital’s treatment program will operate, Hartman tells the State Journal.

-Associated Press

April 7, 5:28 p.m.: Milwaukee County Officials Say Coronavirus Racial Disparities Persist; State Fair Park Could Host Surge Facility

During an online press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Milwaukee County officials said data on the county’s 1,387 COVID-19 cases and 51 deaths show a continuing racial disparity.

“At almost 1,400 confirmed cases in the county, by far, the largest segment of that is the African American community. Ditto for the fatalities,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “That connects both of them to racial inequality that has existed in this community for a long time. This is manifest evidence of a need to do better.”

Officials also said discussions continue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on an alternative COVID-19 care facility at State Fair Park if there’s a surge of local patients.

“We think we could get that up and running in a matter of days,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. He explained that his goal is to have the site ready by mid-April.

-Chuck Quirmbach

April 7, 4:02 p.m.: Drive-in Churches An Option For Faithful Who Want Closeness

With coronavirus prevention measures shuttering houses of worship, pastors across the country are using cars to safely bring their communities closer together. Drive-in churches are popping up so worshipers can assemble.

On Sunday, Pastor John Hanson stood atop a truck as members of his congregation arrived for "drive-in worship" at Peace Lutheran Church in Baldwin, Wis. Palm branches were on display to commemorate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Christianity's holiest week of the year.

Physical presence is no gimmick, but rather embodies the communion central to many faiths. That’s why religious leaders are devising creative (and law-abiding) ways to make socially distanced worship possible.

-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson

April 7, 3:49 p.m.: Milwaukee County Will Limit Number Of Bus Passengers

The Milwaukee County Transit System is instituting a 10-passenger limit on buses in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, County Executive Chris Abele said Tuesday during an online news conference. 

MCTS previously scaled back its service and suspended fares due to the pandemic.

-Emily Files

April 7, 2:35 p.m.: Wisconsin National Guard Staffs Milwaukee County Isolation Facility For Homeless People

Twenty-five Wisconsin National Guard troops are helping staff a Milwaukee County isolation facility for homeless people. This is part of the state's COVID-19 response efforts, says the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.

The Guard is staffing the facility at Clare Hall on the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary grounds in St. Francis 24/7, with a team of 10 medics and 15 citizen-soldiers providing administrative and operational support.

In a release, Capt. Katelyn Voss, the officer in charge of the medical team, said the medical team will be conducting initial baseline medical assessments and connect with each occupant via phone every four hours.

The facility started housing people on March 30.

-Michelle Maternowski

April 6, 6:49 p.m. Absentee Ballots Must Be Submitted In-Person Or Postmarked By Tuesday

Absentee ballots need to be submitted in-person or postmarked by April 7 to be counted in Wisconsin's Tuesday election per an order from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. 

The order overturns an earlier decision made by U.S. District Judge William Conley, which allowed absentee ballots to be turned in as late as 4 p.m. on April 13 – six days after the election.

-Lauren Sigfusson

April 6, 6:38 p.m.: After Virus Fades, Service Industries May Be Changed Forever

The coronavirus crisis is upending service businesses, and the crisis may permanently change the way Americans work, shop and socialize, even after the disease fades away.

Amanda Tikalsky is a personal trainer in Milwaukee. When the athletic club where she worked closed last month, she scrambled to organize online exercise sessions to keep money coming in. Now she predicts that many customers will continue to exercise from home long after the virus restrictions are lifted.

She says the shutdown is also likely to change her own shopping habits. She has a new appreciation for the ease of buying groceries online.

-Associated Press

April 6, 5:12 p.m.: Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Evers Cannot Postpone Tuesday's Election

Wisconsin’s spring election and presidential primary election will proceed Tuesday under an order from the state Supreme Court. This comes just hours after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone voting as part of a last-ditch effort amid growing fears over the coronavirus.

The court ruled 4-2 on Monday that Evers lacked the authority to move the election on his own.

The Wisconsin election is being viewed as a national test case in a broader fight over voter access in the age of the coronavirus with major implications for the presidential primary contests ahead and, possibly, the November general election.

-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson

April 6, 12:58 p.m.: Evers Orders Delay Of Wisconsin's Tuesday Election To June

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order on Monday to delay the state’s scheduled Tuesday election for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is Wisconsin's spring election and presidential primary.

"Frankly, there’s no good answer to this problem ... I had hoped that the Legislature would do its part — just as the rest of us are — to help keep people healthy and safe,” Evers said in a news release. “But as municipalities are consolidating polling locations, and absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe, and that’s why I signed this executive order today.”

The move on Monday injects more chaos and last-minute uncertainty amid growing criticism about the state’s harried efforts to allow for in-person voting. The Democratic Evers had previously opposed moving the election. But he acted as poll sites closed because nervous volunteers were unwilling to staff them and as criticism about holding the election grew.

Republicans say they are immediately challenging Evers' order.

Since there's a chance the court could side with the Republicans’ challenge, the Wisconsin Elections Commission told local clerks to proceed as if the election will happen on Tuesday.

Read more here.

-Lauren Sigfusson, Emily Files, Associated Press

April 6, 8:42 a.m.: 264 Wisconsin National Guard Members To Help With In-Person Voting In Milwaukee County

Monday, 264 Wisconsin National Guard service members are reporting to help Milwaukee County's municipal clerks conduct in-person voting. The members will be in civilian clothes and have completed online election and COVID-19 training.

Gov. Tony Evers announced last week that he was deploying the National Guard to help staff polling sites for Wisconsin's April 7 election. Election clerks said poll workers were quitting in droves in fear of contracting the coronavirus.

According to a press release, "Service Members will serve as poll workers, assist with curbside voting, greet voters, perform sanitation duties, and help with set up and tear down of polling stations. They will consist of younger individuals that are not in any at-risk categories."

-Michelle Maternowski

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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