COVID survivor, nurse voice support for safer-at-home order
Mariah Clark, an emergency department nurse at UW Health in Madison; and Rev. Greg Lewis, pastor of St. Gabriel Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee seen on a video conference discussing the need for people to continue adhering to social distancing in order to minimize spread of the coronavirus.

With big rise in COVID-19 cases, lifting safeguards called ‘morally wrong’

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to climb in Wisconsin, rising by 225 from Tuesday to Wednesday, the biggest one-day spike in cases since public health officials began tracking the virus last month.

The Rev. Greg Lewis, who recently recovered from COVID-19 after being hospitalized with the illness, said Wednesday’s boost is evidence in favor of Gov. Tony Evers’ extension last week of his “Safer at Home” order until May 26. It was originally set to expire Friday. Lifting those orders before virus cases show a decline risks further outbreak of the potentially deadly illness, he said. 

Protests organized by people who want to lift restrictions and resume business operations and other public gatherings have sprung up across the state, with one planned to occur at the Capitol building in Madison Friday.

“What these protesters are doing is morally wrong,” said Lewis, pastor of Milwaukee’s St. Gabriel Church of God in Christ. “This is crazy.” 

Such protests endanger people’s health by spreading the virus, Lewis and six other speakers said Wednesday during a televideo news conference organized by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin. Relaxing stay-at-home rules before the number of COVID-19 cases declines will ensure that many more people contract the virus, which is deadly in some cases. 

Wednesday’s higher figures were due in part to a significant boost in coronavirus cases in Brown County, where 88 additional people tested positive for the illness. Another 70 new cases were detected in Milwaukee County, with Kenosha and Racine counties adding 14 and 13 cases, respectively. The number of Clark County cases doubled in recent days, from 9 to 18.  

The increase in Brown County was driven by an increase in cases at the JBS Packerland meat packing plant in Green Bay, now linked to 147 positive COVID-19 cases. The outbreak is thought to be the largest related to a single facility in the state.

Statewide, 4,845 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 246 have died. Public health officials said Wednesday’s large increase likely is because of a number of factors, including increased testing for the virus. 

However, daily increases of COVID-19 recently have ranged between about 120 and 160, and Wednesday’s higher caseload is evidence COVID-19 “is still circulating in our communities,” Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese said.

The Rev. Marcus Allen said he is concerned about a spike of COVID-19 cases as protests become more common. He said his mother was refused proper medical care several times before she was admitted to an Aurora Health Care hospital on April 10 and tested positive for COVID-19. He said more must be done to identify and treat people with the virus. He urged the continuance of the stay-at-home rules. 

“What we put in place has saved lives,” said Allen, president of the African American Council of Churches and past of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee. “Let’s not reverse that.”

Some Wisconsin residents, including several law enforcement officials, have balked at Evers’ extension of the order. Some people, like rural La Crosse resident Tom Felling, said businesses should be allowed to reopen given the relatively small number of COVID-19 cases in many parts of the state.

“I just don’t think the trade-off right now is worth it,” he said, “with so many businesses struggling.”

However, Allen and others said while they are sympathetic to the plight of business owners, people’s lives should be a priority.

Mariah Clark, an emergency department nurse at UW Health System in Madison, is among medical personnel and others putting their lives on the line as they have contact with people infected with COVID-19. She criticized President Donald Trump for his support of the protesters seeking to lift stay-at-home orders across the country.

“It is appalling to see President Trump supporting these dangerous actions,” Clark said, likening his rhetoric to “reckless political stunts.”

Clark also was critical of Trump’s failure to provide adequate funding for personal protective equipment necessary to protect nurses and other front line workers from infection. She said she and her coworkers lack protective equipment, often reusing masks for several days at a time.

On Tuesday U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and other Democrats from Wisconsin called on Trump to increase funding for PPE and to increase COVID-19 testing in the state and elsewhere in the U.S. 

Vice President Mike Pence said about 150,000 COVID-19 tests are being conducted daily in the nation. However, public health experts have said that figure needs to be at least 500,000 if parts of the country are to be safely reopened by mid-May. 

At the state level, Clark called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve the Health Care Heroes Act that would provide funding for more PPE, fully paid sick leave and hazard pay, and health insurance for front line employees. 

Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, said she and others are working on that legislation. She acknowledged Republican opposition to the measure as those items were part of COVID-19 relief bill negotiations last week but were not approved as part of that measure. However, she said she is hopeful legislators can come together to address those issues. 

Lewis, the Milwaukee pastor, hopes measures called for in Health Care Heroes Act legislation are enacted. He recovered from COVID-19 and was released from Froedtert Hospital earlier this month. 

But four people he knows did die while he was hospitalized, Lewis said. If stay-at-home measures are lifted too soon, he worries more state residents will meet that fate. 

“What we’ve seen so far could be minor,” he said. “We shouldn’t sacrifice one life for this.”