Wisconsin Sets New Single-Day Record: 845 New COVID Cases
Wisconsin National Guard members Sgt. John Clark, left, and Spc. Madeline Westrick gather samples at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site near Baraboo on April 29. The guard continues to play a key role by running free testing sites across the state as cases surge. (Photo © Andy Manis)

The number of COVID-19 cases has grown more since the end of May — more than 18,000 cases — than it did from mid-March until that time. 

The coronavirus continued to surge across Wisconsin Friday as the state recorded its largest one-day increase in cases for a second consecutive day, furthering concerns among public health officials and others. 

According to state Department of Health figures, 845 new positive cases of COVID-19 were recorded Friday, up from the previous one-day record of 754 reported on Thursday. Those high numbers continue a trend for the past three weeks of a surge in cases across the state.

The state has recorded 4,436 cases in the past seven days, a new seven-day cumulative record, DHS numbers show. For 16 of the past 17 days, the positive test rate — an indicator of virus spread — has been 4 percent or higher. Of the 12,702 tests included in Friday’s figures, 6.7 percent were positive. 

The explosion of the virus is evidence public health officials in Wisconsin are struggling to contain its spread without a state order in place. A handful of counties have enacted orders restricting sizes of gatherings, but most have no enforceable rules in place.

“I believe this is our new normal,” St. Croix County Health Department Director Kelli Engen told UpNorthNews Friday afternoon. “It seems like we’re going to see more and more cases of this virus. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

On Friday, in the wake of the new record high, DHS officials urged residents to practice social distancing and to refrain from large gatherings during the upcoming weekend.  

To prevent further spread of the virus, a handful of communities across the state, among them Dane County, Shorewood, and Marathon County, have approved various policies mandating the wearing of face masks in public places. City officials in Milwaukee and Green Bay are considering similar measures.

On Thursday interim UW System President Tommy Thompson said the system’s campuses will mandate the wearing of masks when school resumes.

The number of COVID-19 cases has grown more since the end of May — more than 18,000 cases — than it did from mid-March until that time. The rapid rise in cases coincides with the lifting of safer-at-home restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus after the state Supreme Court ruled on May 12 an extension of that order wasn’t legal. 

Engen and health department directors in other parts of the state have been busy responding to bursts of new cases in recent weeks. On Thursday Engen’s department had already responded to nine new reports of the illness by noon. Three more cases occurred that afternoon, she said, and on Friday morning another five cases surfaced. 

“I’m really nervous about where this is headed,” Engen said. 

Recent virus outbreaks are occurring in many counties across the state, DHS statistics show. The majority of Wisconsin’s 72 countries are deemed high-activity locations for the disease. Locations such as Milwaukee, Dane, Brown, and Racine counties continue to be hot spots, and they have been joined by La Crosse, Walworth, Winnebago, Rock and other counties where cases have been especially fast-growing in recent weeks. 

Rural communities where COVID-19 cases had been more rare have seen surges as well, with counties such as Trempeauleau, Dodge, Clark, and Lafayette home to much-higher recent numbers, DHS figures show.  

Chippewa County has seen its cases swell quickly in the past few weeks, reaching 130 on Friday. Health department staff there are working hard to conduct contact tracing to help contain the illness, the department’s director, Angela Weideman said.

But that task has become much more challenging, she said, as people infected with the virus have contact with many more people compared to when safer-at-home was in effect. 

“It’s getting to be in some cases where we can’t even track all of the people someone has been in contact with because the number is too big for them to even know everyone they have been in contact with,” Weideman said. 

During a news conference to address COVID-19 Thursday, DHS Division of Public Health Interim Administrator Stephanie Smiley advocated that people wear masks in public. 

“It is one of the only tools we have in our toolbox to slow the spread of this disease,” she said.