More than 70 COVID positive after attending large gathering.
Hundreds gathered at the State Capitol in Madison on April 24 to protest quarantine safeguards. (Photo © Andy Manis)

State did not ask for individuals to specify event attended, but said they had attended event in past 2 weeks

Two weeks ago, roughly 1,500 people gathered at the Capitol in Madison to protest Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order, saying the order violated their freedom and was problematic for businesses.

Some scheduled speakers said they were not afraid to die or afraid of the coronavirus, with many hosting signs calling the pandemic a hoax.

On Friday, the state Department of Health Services said there have been 1,986 confirmed cases since the weekend of the rally. Of those, 72 people reported having attended a large gathering, according to The Progressive. However, people who tested positive were not asked specifically if they had attended the protest in Madison.

This is a shift in how contact tracers, the people who meet with individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to find out where they have been, who they have been in contact with and what places outside their homes they have visited, approached positive individuals following the April 7 election.

RELATED: State Supreme Court Says Election Must Be Held.

In the weeks following the election, those who tested positive were specifically asked if they had participated in the election as either a worker or a voter. However, no such specific question was asked of those who tested positive in the two weeks since the protest.

When asked why health officials had asked people who tested positive for the virus in the weeks following the April 7 election but not specially about attending the protest,  DHS Sec. Andrea Palm did not provide a reason. Instead, during a conference call with reporters, she reiterated the work of contact tracers.

“Whether you went to the polls as a poll worker or as a voter or whether you came to the protest or went to another large gathering that would be part of the information we would get when those contact tracers were making contact with positive cases and subsequently the people they may have exposed,” Palm said.

Many of those in attendance did not maintain a 6-foot distance from others, or wear masks or other protective gear.

RELATED: Right-wing Groups Say COVID-19 A Hoax

On April 24, the day the protest was held, there were 5,356 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 262 deaths.

On Friday, the number of positive cases was 9,590, more than 4,500 higher than the day of the protest. The number of deaths since then  increased by more than 100 to 384. Palm said the state is investigating 235 facilities with site-specific outbreaks across the state.

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The extension of the safer-at-home order from April 24 to May 26 is what prompted the protest. Evers said Friday there is little change the order will be extended past the new date. 

Evers told reporters during a conference call Friday afternoon that the state picked that date to give his administration time to massively increase testing capacity, contact tracing and to bolster the state’s supply of proactive gloves, masks and gowns that frontline workers need to prevent contraction of the virus. 

Evers said the state went from being able to test zero people for the virus at the beginning of March to a capacity to test 14,000 people per day now. The state has hired contact tracers and has interview requests out to 415 potential hires, Palm said. 

And at the end of April, Wisconsin received 230,000 N95 masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System that can decontaminate 80,000 of those masks a day.

In addition, Evers said the state is planning for schools to reopen in the fall. 

“There is no reason to believe the 26th isn’t a reasonable day to end the order,” said Evers.