Evers pardons
Gov. Tony Evers has pardoned 65 individuals during his tenure in office. (Screenshot via Wisconsin DHS)

State health officials say social distancing, other policies are ‘flattening the curve’

This is the start of the fourth week Wisconsin residents are living under the safer-at-home order that was issued by the governor March 25. 

Designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state with the goal of lowering the number of infected people and not overwhelming the state’s healthcare system, the order is working.

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers and state health officials said while the number of cases and the number of deaths continues to grow, the slower rate by which the numbers are climbing daily are positive signs.

“I know it can sound discouraging to hear an increase in these numbers but it is important to know that we have actually seen a decrease in the exponential growth as a result of the safer-at-home policy,” said Andrea Palm, secretary of the state Department of Health Services. “We are flattening the curve.”

According to the health department, the number of positive cases increased by 87 from Sunday to Monday, with 3,428 people now having tested positive for the virus. The total number of people testing negative rose by 853 to 36,769 total cases, Palm said. 

The number of deaths is 154, an increase of 10 from Sunday. 

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state health department’s chief medical officer, cautioned that while flattening the curve is a good sign, the state needs to move cautiously before changing or ending the safer-at-home policy.

Westergaard said that an increase of 100 cases a day is better than 1,000 new cases a day, “but it’s probably not low enough for us to feel confident that there is not a fair amount of community spread” still occurring in the state. 

“There is still sustained transmission in the community,” Westergaard saied. “That means there is a large number of people that are infectious. And when we relax safer at home we are really going to have to be able to zero in and contain those individuals.”

Palm said the only way to find those individuals is to continue to staff local health departments to perform contact tracing and to continue to increase lab capacity. The state now has 23 labs and is capable of testing 3,886 samples per day, she said.

Westergaard added the state’s numbers are a mix of good and bad news. 

“We are not at that surge that is straining our healthcare capacity but we’re also not at such a small level that we are safe from having an expanded epidemic like in many countries,” he said.  “We clearly flattened the curve but there is still transmission occurring in the community right at this moment.”

The safer-at-home order is set to expire at 8 a.m. Friday, April 24.  On a conference call with reporters Monday, Evers said he was “not in a position to make a decision” on whether or not the order would be extended past that time at this point in time.