Gov. Tony Evers speaks Nov. 10 at a virtual panel supporting the Affordable Care Act. Evers, a cancer survivor, went to bat for the healthcare reform law as the US Supreme Court considered a Trump-backed lawsuit that would invalidate the law in its entirety. (Screenshot)
Gov. Tony Evers speaks Nov. 10 at a virtual panel supporting the Affordable Care Act. Evers, a cancer survivor, went to bat for the healthcare reform law as the US Supreme Court considered a Trump-backed lawsuit that would invalidate the law in its entirety. (Screenshot)

Governor declares a new state of public health emergency due to dwindling hospital capacity in recent COVID-19 surge.

With Wisconsin hospitals at or near capacity and facing critical staffing shortages, Gov. Tony Evers on Friday declared a new state of emergency, a state of public health emergency, and issued an emergency order extending the state’s face covering safeguard to Jan. 19, despite his previous mandates being challenged by conservatives in court. 

“Wisconsin hospitals are overwhelmed and facing staffing shortages,” said Evers in a press release. “We continue to see record-setting days of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. We need everyone to stay home and wear a mask if you have to go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

According to Evers, more than one-third of hospitals across the state are operating at peak capacity and unable to accept new patients.Twenty-one percent of medical surgical beds and 32% of intensive care unit beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

In addition to the high level of demand, hospitals are facing severe staffing shortages, to the extent that 42% of hospitals expect to have critical shortages within a week and multiple systems have requested staffing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

The mask requirement, which was set to expire Saturday, is now extended through Jan. 19. It requires people to wear a face covering when indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone who is not from their household. It is enforceable with fines up to $200. 

On Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments in a case where the current mask safeguard is being challenged as an illegal separate emergency declaration for the same crisis. Waukesha County resident Jeré Fabick argues state law limits a states of emergency to 60 days without requiring a process that involves the Wisconsin Legislature, and spikes of the virus should not be considered a new emergency. 

Earlier on Friday, Evers met with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and new Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) to discuss a potential legislative response to the pandemic. The Legislature has not met since April 15. Evers and GOP leadership have not met since May when the Republicans convinced the state Supreme Court to throw out an extension of safeguards ordered by Evers and then showed no interest in returning to the capitol to work on new safeguards.

No definitive actions were announced after Friday’s meeting. Britt Cudabeck, a spokeswoman for the governor, described the meeting as “productive” and said Evers asked the three to meet again after Thanksgiving. 

Likewise, Vos said the discussion was productive.

“As expected, there were issues we agreed on and some that we didn’t,” Vos said in a statement. “Regardless, I see today’s conversation as a positive step forward to finding common ground in developing a more unified state response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Friday’s report from the state Department of Health Services (DHS) included the third-highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day. The 78 deaths bring the Wisconsin death toll from the pandemic to 2,954. The 381 deaths since last Friday are the highest loss of life in a seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The 6,473 new coronavirus infections reported by DHS on Friday rank ninth-highest among all single-day totals. Hospitalizations fell for a third-straight day.