Across the country, states are now looking to Wisconsin as the coronavirus outbreak here worsens.
Per capita, the state already has one of the highest infection rates in the country. On Monday, Wisconsin recorded a one-day positivity rate of about 22%. In other words, 22% of all people tested have the disease.
“Honestly, those are numbers that we never hoped would come to Wisconsin," says Dr. Ben Weston, the medical director for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.
When Wisconsin first began to notice a sharp uptick in the number of people testing positive, health officials and elected officials pointed the finger at college students. But he says like with surges seen in other states, it’s really difficult to pinpoint the cause.
“We had Labor Day a few weeks ago, we may be seeing some carryover from gatherings that happened then knowing that it takes a little bit of time to start seeing the positive cases after gatherings. We have schools that reopened, most notably colleges and universities that reopened that had been shown to be very problematic hotspots for COVID-19, particularly in Wisconsin but also around the country. And then somewhat more unique to Wisconsin, we have weather that’s changing, driving people a little more indoors,” Weston says.
At the time this story was reported, more than 570 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state. In southeastern Wisconsin, 188 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. In some areas of the state, the hospital system is near capacity.
When it comes to stopping the spread of the virus, Gov. Tony Evers has extended the statewide mask ordinance for two more months. But last Thursday, he admitted that outside of that, his hands are tied.
“Last April, the Supreme Court, with being allies with Republicans, closed down our safer-at-home order. And that is essentially precluding all sorts of mitigation strategies whether it’s numbers of people in bars and restaurants or whatever. We had planned for a safer opening for the state of Wisconsin. That didn’t happen. Those things are frankly out of my control,” Evers says.
Evers is urging everyone to stay home if you can. If you cannot, Evers says to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
With a major election just over a month away, the surge Wisconsin is seeing is even more concerning, according to Weston.
“Anytime you have number one, an activity where people may gather in a month, and number two, an activity where you are encouraging people to participate … we certainly don’t want to say stay home," Weston says. "Now, there are obviously alternative ways to vote, there’s mail-in ballots, there’s early voting, there’s other opportunities. So by all means, we want as many people as possible to get out there and vote, but we’re working hard to make sure they can get out there and do it as safe as possible as well."
On Monday, attorneys for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asked a judge to immediately end Wisconsin’s mask mandate, arguing that Evers doesn’t have the authority. A court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5.