Wisconsin Just Hit New Records For Testing, Positives — and Deaths

Most federal relief goes to more testing, tracing, and hospital readiness

As Wisconsin added nearly 200 new coronavirus cases Tuesday and 8 more deaths, Gov. Tony Evers outlined how the state will spend $1 billion in federal CARES Act funding toward more testing, contact tracing, and additional resources for hospitals and local health departments trying to contain the outbreak. 

According to a news release issued by Evers’ office, the state will spend $260 million of that funding toward increasing testing for COVID-19 and another $75 million for contact tracing, the process of tracking down people who have been in contact with those who have tested positive for the virus, an effort to prevent further disease spread. 

“Our statewide approach to containing the spread of COVID-19 will continue with robust testing and contact tracing efforts in all corners of Wisconsin, resources that ensure our critical workers have the equipment they need to do their jobs safely, and direct investments in local communities and health providers,” Evers said in the release. “Wisconsin’s Safer At Home order may have ended, but our all-out war on this virus has not.” 

Of the funding for testing, $202 million will go to COVID-19 test collection kits and $45 million for local community and occupation testing pilot programs, the release states. Another $10 million will be used to coordinate testing efforts, with $3 million to be used for local health departments to update plans to support testing in the fall.

The state has worked to build testing capacity, currently at more than 13,000 tests daily with 52 labs processing test kits. Funding for testing will ensure testing remains free for patients. The Wisconsin National Guard is operating 25 teams at test sites across Wisconsin in an effort to better gauge the spread of the illness. 

Contact tracing efforts will include using analytics software to reach out to recent contacts of people testing positive for COVID-19. Funding for contact tracing includes up to $50 million to pay for county and city health departments to hire additional staff for that purpose. Additional dollars will go to hire more contact tracers at the state level, the release states. 

More than 200 state employees have been reassigned to do contact tracing work, Evers’ statement says. State Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm has spoken in recent days about the importance of boosting contact tracing efforts as business operations and other activities in Wisconsin resume, especially in light of last week’s state Supreme Court order striking down Palm’s extension of safer-at-home restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Republican leaders in the Legislature have indicated they will not cooperate in writing a new set of statewide safeguards. 

About $445 million will go to Wisconsin hospitals to help them prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients this summer and fall. Public health experts said the number of cases of the virus will increase as residents begin congregating again in workplaces and other locations. 

The state also plans to spend $150 million on personal protective equipment and $40 million to buy more ventilators. The state has already taken steps to buy 1,542 more ventilators, the release states.

So far, state officials said they have acquired 42 ventilators. They said they expect delivery of the other 1,500 to begin this month. 

The release noted that state agencies have incurred about $200 million in expenses related to COVID-19.The number of new cases of the virus reported Tuesday was relatively low, with 198. However, eight more people died of the illness, bringing the total to 467 deaths statewide from 12,885 confirmed cases.