Wisconsin Tops 2,000 New COVID-19 Cases in Single Day. Sen. Johnson Quarantined After Exposure.



By Pat Kreitlow

September 17, 2020

President Trump flies to Mosinee for an evening rally in a state seeing unchecked coronavirus growth.

The state Department of Health Services on Thursday reported 2,034 new positive tests for COVID-19, shattering the state’s previous single-day record. The news came almost in tandem with media reports that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) would be in quarantine after exposure to someone who has been infected with the coronavirus.

Three new deaths in Wisconsin bring the loss of life from the outbreak to 1,231 while the US death toll continues its inevitable march to 200,000 victims, crossing 197,000 by Thursday afternoon.

“I feel like almost nothing surprises me anymore,” said Dr. Jeff Pothoff, chief quality officer with UW Health, in regards to the record-high number of new cases. “Over the last week or so, we’ve been seeing the writing on the wall, which really has been that we’re in a bit of a rough spot with COVID-19 right now. And that’s the last thing anyone wants to see, because we’re so tired of this thing.”

Johnson, who was supposed to travel with President Donald Trump this evening to a rally in Mosinee, is instead in quarantine because he learned he had been exposed on Monday to someone who has tested positive. Johnson’s office says the Senator’s test was negative, but that he will remain isolated until Sept. 29 to guard against any chance of infecting others.

If the president’s event is anything like the one he held at an airport hangar recently in Oshkosh, a crowd of supporters will greet him while remaining largely unmasked in the middle of a state where 71 of 72 counties are reporting a high level of coronavirus activity. 

The lack of masks at Trump events is the deadly consequence of an example set by the president himself. Trump said during an ABC town hall Tuesday night that “there are a lot of people that think that masks are not good” using waiters as an example.

“They come over, they serve you and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day, where they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. … They’re playing with the mask. … They’re touching it and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good,” Trump said.

Trump went so far as to say the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was wrong on Wednesday in telling a congressional committee that masks will continue to be the most effective preventative strategy well into 2021 when any vaccine might first be widely available.

Gov. Tony Evers also made mention of Trump’s upcoming visit to Mosinee during a media briefing Wednesday. 

“He will not be wearing a mask, and he should be wearing a mask,” Evers said. “When you have leaders not wearing masks that sends a message to everyone else.”

Masks, Pothoff said, are the best way to avoid the need for a second statewide shutdown like Evers instituted in the early days of the pandemic before the state Supreme Court struck it down. But if the virus continues its rampant spread, it may call for stricter action like another shutdown, Pothoff said.

“At some point you have to have on the table whether or not we take those drastic efforts,” Pothoff said. “There’s clearly consequences on both sides—having a shutdown has massive effects on the economy and people’s ability to earn a livelihood. At the same time, unfettered transmission of COVID-19 causes tremendous harm to our communities.”

Local mask mandates and the statewide requirement had demonstrable positive impacts on the virus’ spread in Wisconsin, Pothoff said. However, that has worn off in recent days due in large part to spread in college campuses throughout the state where many are neglecting social distancing requirements and failing to wear masks.

The increases are due, in large part, to the return of in-person classes at university campus, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with the state Department of Health Services, during a media briefing Wednesday.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that seven of the top 20 metro areas with the fastest increase in new COVID-19 cases per capita are in college towns in Wisconsin.

The only silver lining Pothoff could find is that new cases are disproportionately affecting college-age people, and are not yet spilling over to older demographics more susceptible to death from coronavirus. A relatively steady hospitalization rate is also a positive, Pothoff said. Still, extensive documentation of permanent or long-term damaging effects from the virus, even among mild cases in younger people, is cause for alarm. 

Evers and state health officials also emphasized during the Wednesday briefing the continued need for people to frequently wash their hands, wear face masks, social distance, and avoid large gatherings. 

The statewide mask mandate—which Evers issued under emergency powers that only last 60 days—expires Sept. 28. Evers said Wednesday he is “looking at all alternatives” in deciding whether to extend the mandate. The Republican-controlled Legislature is unlikely to extend it.

“We need leaders, whether it’s the governor or the Legislature, to say, ‘You know what? We know masking works. We know we have this big problem in the state,’” Pothoff said. “Really the only solution that gets us there [with case numbers decreasing] is continued reinforcement, strong policy that keeps something on our face. Sometimes it’s not fun, but we’re fighting a biological threat and these are one of the tools that we have.”

Jessica VanEgeren and Jonathon Sadowski contributed to this report. 


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

CATEGORIES: Coronavirus | Elections


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