Healthcare workers lit candles in recognition of COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin.
Healthcare workers lit more than 1300 candles in recognition of every person in Wisconsin who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 outside the Capitol in Madison Thursday night. It is also meant to be a counter-protest to the those protesting for the end of the safer-at-home order Friday. (Photo © Andy Manis)

COVID-19 caseload grows +200 for second straight day and tops 5,000 total

Gov. Tony Evers and other politicians have cautioned against it. Nurses and faith leaders have blasted it. Now doctors are speaking out about planned protests against quarantine limits.

And as Wisconsin marks a second straight day of seeing more than 200 new cases of COVID-19, the physicians say such gatherings are dangerous to the protesters, their families and frontline healthcare workers.

Thursday also marked Wisconsin’s total number of coronavirus cases rising past 5,000 based on the daily statistics issued by the state Department of Health Services.

Of the 5,052 positive cases of COVID-19 confirmed since the outbreak began, 1,318 have required hospitalization. There were 207 more cases confirmed since Wednesday’s report, and the deaths of an additional 11 people bring Wisconsin’s death toll from the outbreak to 257.

Due to a hotspot related to meatpacking plants, Brown County alone added 53 new cases to the daily total.

Despite the still-climbing numbers in some communities, protesters believe the lack of rising numbers in other parts of the state means the “Safer at Home” limits on businesses and gatherings issued last month by Gov. Evers should be eased or lifted.

“There is no model that says that this is a good idea,’’ says Dr. Jeffrey Pothoff, a Madison emergency medicine physician who is helping lead UW Health’s effort to stem the tide of coronavirus cases. “We have data that supports the idea that things will get worse (if the restrictions are loosened). If you think the economy is bad now, what will happen if the cases double or triple? We’ll lose more lives and the economy will be even worse. It’s a lose-lose.”

Pothoff says Wisconsin has not been hit as hard as other states thanks to the time lag and the ability to learn from other states about the importance of isolation.

Dr. Patrick McBride, who recently retired from a career in family medicine and preventative cardiology at UW Health, sees parallels between how some people are rebelling against the “safer at home restrictions,” and how some of his patients reacted when he had them quit smoking and improve their diets.

“A preventive medicine success is when nothing happens,’’ McBride says. “People would say, ‘I feel fine, why can’t I have a cheeseburger and fries?’.’’

Protesters also may be misled by statistics that showed few cases outside of the larger cities. Those statistics may be inaccurate because of a lack of widespread testing.

The explosion of cases in Green Bay and surrounding Brown County, he says, shows what can happen if a few infected people are in a crowded workplace. 

Since Easter, nearly 270 cases have been tied to three meat processing facilities in Brown County as cases there surged past 500. The exponential increase in cases surpasses the rate of every other county in the state.

More than 240 of those cases are in Green Bay at the city’s JBS Packerland and American Foods Group facilities, and 23 are at Salm Partners in the village of Denmark. The cases include both employees and employees’ families.

Green Bay Chief of Staff Celestine Jeffreys deferred questions about the outbreak to county health officials. County officials defended the factories and said the county currently has no plans to order the plants to shut down, even though it has the authority.

“We’re not talking about closing any of the plants,” Claire Paprocki, a Brown County public health strategist, said in a call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

“It’s so vital that we don’t endanger the safety of the public, the safety of health care workers and don’t overwhelm the system by clogging up the ICUs,” said McBride. “Please don’t put us and our families at risk.”

Susan Lambert Smith and Jonathon Sadowski contributed to this report.