COVID-19 cases rise to 1,365 in Wisconsin with at least 20 deaths

Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday sent a letter requesting President Donald Trump issue a major disaster declaration for Wisconsin, as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread across the state.

He also announced the opening of two voluntary isolation centers as a way to relieve pressure on hospitals in Madison and Milwaukee.

As of Tuesday afternoon the virus had reportedly claimed 25 lives, and at least 1,365 people had tested positive. The figures are based on multiple sources: the state Department of Health Services, county health officials in Madison and Milwaukee, and Wisconsin media reports. Roughly 17, 375 people have tested negative, according to DHS. 

The request from Evers for a disaster declaration to the Federal Emergency Management Agency covers each of the state’s 72 counties and federally recognized tribes. 

“The response to this virus has required a tremendous response from the state and all of its communities that far exceeds the resources currently available to us,” Evers said. “By seeking this declaration, we are hopeful the state will be able to access critical programs that are needed to deal with the pandemic now, and with the recovery that will be taking place down the road.”

Specifically, Evers is requesting public assistance, direct assistance, statewide hazard mitigation, individual assistance programs, crisis counseling, community disaster loans and disaster supplemental nutrition programs. 

Due to the fact the virus spreads by airborne particulars when people are in close contact with one another, non-essential businesses were ordered shuttered as part of a “safer at home” order last week. The closure of schools, movie theaters, stores and numerous other businesses has led to a record-number of residents suddenly finding themselves unemployed. 

The State Department of Workforce Development reports preliminary numbers that nearly 25,000 Wisconsin workers filed unemployment insurance claims Monday. For perspective, that is nearly 23,400 more than were filed last year on the same day.

On a call with reporters on Monday, Evers stressed the importance of the Legislature taking action on proposals that would increase funding and other resources for those departments hardest hit by the pandemic, including the state Department of Health Services and the state Department of Workforce Development. 

He said that last week, 115,000 new preliminary unemployment insurance applications were filed with the state Department of Workforce Development. 

“That’s 115,000 in one week,” Evers stressed. 

The unemployment insurance call center received 1.5 million calls in that same time period. To underscore how significant the need is for these benefits, last Thursday DWD received 400,000 calls between 6 and 10 a.m. 

Evers said at one point the center was averaging 160 calls per second.

“The system was not built to handle this call volume,” Evers said. “We are working every day to increase that capacity.”

The department has already increased its capacity to allow for 690 simultaneous calls, Evers said. The Department of Workforce Development did this by increasing call center staff from 52 to 92, but it will need an additional 80 staff to triage calls. 

“The Legislature needs to act to remove the one-week waiting period so folks can start receiving benefits,” Evers said. 

The governor announced Tuesday afternoon that the state will open two “voluntary isolation facilities,” one in Madison and the other in Milwaukee, to relieve pressure on hospitals dealing with patients in more severe conditions. “They will provide a valuable resource for those who have mild symptoms of COVID-19,” the governor said, “leaving valuable hospital space available for others who need it, and they also provide a safe place for people to stay so they don’t spread COVID-19 to others.”

These facilities, opening Wednesday at the Lowell Center in Madison and a Super 8 hotel in Milwaukee, are for symptomatic individuals suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or who have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Individuals will not be permitted to register at the facility unless referred by a medical provider or public health official. The expected length of stay will be about 14 days, or 72 hours after symptoms dissipate. Those choosing to stay at the facility will have wellness checks by phone every four hours during the day and if needed at night.