Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee now has a refrigerated truck that may be used as a temporary morgue due to the growing number of deaths from COVID-19. (Photo by Milwaukee Business Journal)
Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee now has a refrigerated truck that may be used as a temporary morgue due to the growing number of deaths from COVID-19. (Photo by Milwaukee Business Journal)

Disaster declaration approved by Trump. Refrigerated truck arrives in Milwaukee as a likely morgue.

Sunday update: The number of positive coronavirus cases in Wisconsin increased Sunday to 2,267. Of those, 624, or 28 percent have required hospitalization.

The death toll for COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has risen to 73, according to the state Department of Health Services and Milwaukee County

As of Sunday, 59 of the state’s 72 counties have had at least one COVID-19 case. The 13 counties to yet  report a single case are: Burnett, Forest, Green Lake, LaFayette, Lincoln, Pepkin, Polk, Price, Sayer, Taylor, Vernon, Washburn and Waushara. 

Counties reporting the highest number of positive cases include: Milwaukee with 1,148; Dane with 269; Waukesha with 154; Kenosha with 98; Washington with 57 and Racine with 54. 

As Wisconsin tops 2,000 COVID-19 cases and the death toll approaches five-dozen, its elected leaders remain as infected by political gridlock as if a pandemic weren’t enveloping the state. A special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Tony Evers was quietly gaveled in by the Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly with no action and no sense of urgency about making changes to an election scheduled for Tuesday during a public health emergency.

Video clips posted to Twitter show each chamber virtually empty as the Senate (courtesy: WKOW-TV) and then the Assembly (courtesy: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) adjourned the special session until Monday. It appears unlikely there would then be action, a day prior to an election, to move it to an all-mailed ballot election in May, as Gov. Evers requested in calling the session.

Similar special sessions called earlier by the governor on gun safety and school funding were also given a legislative brush-off by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, the majority leader. A special session on the farm crisis did see legislative action.

Two hours earlier, the state Department of Health Services released its daily update on COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the coronavirus.

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 now stands at 2,112 in Wisconsin, an increase of 196 from Friday, according to the state Department of Health Services. The state reports 56 people have died from the virus. However Milwaukee County updates its numbers more frequently and is reporting 34 deaths – five additional deaths than what is being reported by the state – which would bring the current state total to at least 61 deaths. 

In all, 23,859 people have now tested negative for the virus. Of the 2,112 who were infected 588, or 28 percent, have required hospitalization. 

The pandemic led to a statewide “Safer at Home” order from Gov. Evers, but he also maintained until Friday that the April 7 election should go forward, albeit with an extra emphasis on encouraging absentee ballots which can be sent and returned by mail. 

As of Saturday morning, one-and-a-quarter million ballot requests have come in. A federal judge on Thursday extended the deadline for voters so that absentee ballots don’t have to arrive at their local clerk’s office until 4 p.m. on Monday, August 13, six days after the in-person voting. On Friday, that same judge ordered clerks not to release the results of the in-person voting on April 7 but to wait until 4 p.m. on April 13 to begin sharing vote counts.

On Friday, Evers said circumstances had changed, especially after dozens of municipalities reported a likely shortage of poll workers by volunteers adhering to the governor’s recommendation to stay home. His special session proposal on Friday sought to delay Tuesday’s election and mail an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state by May 19 which would have to be returned by May 26. 

Vos and Fitzgerald immediately rejected the idea. Republicans blamed Evers for flip-flopping while Democrats say Vos and Fitzgerald should have joined Evers in recognizing the severity of the situation and the health threats of sticking to an in-person election with fewer poll workers and polling places.

In other news related to the pandemic, the governor’s office announced on Saturday that President Trump had approved a disaster declaration for Wisconsin, making it the 37th state to receive the designation which eases the process for receiving federal funds and other forms of support during and after the public health emergency.

And, in an ominous sign for a city already gripped with anxiety about the outbreak, Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee confirmed to WTMJ-TV that a refrigerated truck has been placed outside the hospital to deal with an ongoing surge of COVID-19 deaths and a potential lack of morgue space for the victims.

According to tracking done by Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. on Saturday topped 300,000 COVID-19 cases and 8,300 deaths after more than 1,000 Americans died since Friday. Worldwide, the coronavirus has infected 1.2 million people and claimed more than 64,000 lives.