Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday issued a new emergency order limiting public gatherings and restricting capacities to 25% of an establishment’s occupancy limit to slow the spread of the coronavirus starting Thursday morning.
The move comes as COVID-19 is surging out of control in Wisconsin, with the state becoming a national hotspot for the pandemic. The virus’ spread has exploded since schools resumed, growing from 76,584 confirmed cases on Sept. 1 to 136,379 cases as of Tuesday, according to Department of Health Services data that included 2,020 newly confirmed cases.
An additional 18 deaths bring the Wisconsin death toll from the pandemic to 1,399. There have been 99 deaths in the past seven days, the highest weekly loss of life yet recorded in the state.
The number of COVID-19 hospital patients shot significantly higher in one day, up 71 patients to a record 853 hospital beds currently in use. That includes 216 in intensive care, breaking the previous record of Monday’s 209, according to figures tracked by the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” Evers said in a statement. “We are continuing to experience a surge in cases and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus. Folks, we need your help and we need all Wisconsinites to work together during this difficult time. The sooner we get control of this virus, the sooner our economy, communities, and state can bounce back.”
The order goes into effect 8 a.m. Oct. 8 and lasts through Nov. 6. It includes bars, restaurants and stores, and exempts schools, health care facilities, churches, and political rallies, among other things.
The order will likely draw a legal challenge from Legislative Republicans, who took the state’s Safer at Home order to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and are currently trying to get Evers’ statewide mask mandate thrown out.
“I have no doubt that we’ll probably see litigation on this order as well,” said Ryan Nilsesteun, Evers’ chief legal counsel, in a call with reporters following the announcement.
Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm said the order was necessary to try to tamp down on the rampant spread of the virus. She said indoor gatherings have contributed to the spike.
“The spread of this disease currently is intense, and it’s community-wide,” Palm said. “We absolutely see transmission among indoor gatherings.”
“We need to make the choice to reduce our time outside of the house, in these larger public gatherings that increase our risk for spread,” Palm added.
During the call with reporters, Evers also stressed that people should isolate themselves after being tested for COVID-19. That may have been a reference to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who tested positive for coronavirus over the weekend. Johnson got tested before attending an indoor fundraiser, which he spoke at; but he did not wait for the test results, potentially exposing the entire crowd before he knew he was infected.
“We see super-spreader events that tend to be held in these indoor environments,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s top epidemiologist.
[Editor’s Note: The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard listed the number of patients in intensive care on Tuesday as 261 and appeared as such in our original story. It has been corrected to 216, which was still a new record figure until Wednesday’s 219.]
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