Milwaukee County's COVID-19 Response Is In 'Critical And Fragile' Period

May 27, 2020

The city of Milwaukee is an island right now. It’s the only municipality in Milwaukee County with a stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The 18 other communities have allowed nonessential businesses to reopen.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said last week that he’d comment on a possible plan to reopen the city this coming Friday. In the meantime, he’s calling on people to wash hands thoroughly, wear masks in public, and continue the practice of social distancing.

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On Tuesday, Barrett said the latter was in short supply in some places over Memorial Day weekend.

“I saw some pictures from Bradford Beach where I thought some people were getting a little too close to each other there,” says Barrett. “Please don't ruin it for other people. That's my request. Please don't ruin it for other people by not following. This is not necessarily about you. It's about everyone. It's about our community.”

Barrett has said metrics will determine whether he allows closed businesses to reopen, metrics like those listed on Milwaukee County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Twice each day, the dashboard updates the number of COVID-19 deaths in the county. It also has five key indicators of how the coronavirus is spreading and how well the county is prepared for COVID-19:

  • Trends in coronavirus cases
  • Number of tests performed
  • Hospital readiness
  • PPE availability
  • Tracing

On the dashboard, a green icon next to a key indicator means the county is in “excellent” shape in that area. A yellow icon means “proceed with caution,” and a red icon indicates there’s cause for concern. Currently, there are no green icons. Two are red, three are yellow.

“Clearly we're at a critical and fragile period,” says Dr. Ben Weston, who's with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

In the last few days, he says three of the indicators on the dashboard have remained unchanged, while two indicators have moved in the wrong direction.

“Specifically, cases, which represents the trend on positive percent positive cases, and then care, which represents the hospital resources dedicated to COVID-19 patients,” says Weston.

"It's too soon to say definitively that these changes are necessarily due to pulling back of the stay-at-home orders. We can certainly say that we must be especially careful in our dialing back of physical distancing." - Dr. Ben Weston

Weston says on Saturday, for the fifth day in a row, more than 20% of Milwaukee County’s coronavirus tests came back positive. The goal is 10% or fewer.

“It’s too soon to say definitively that these changes are necessarily due to pulling back of the stay-at-home orders,” Weston says. “We can certainly say that we must be especially careful in our dialing back of physical distancing, whether through orders in place, messaging being sent out, or individuals making informed decisions.”

Weston says decisions about opening businesses – and homes – must be done with care.

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