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Local leaders warn Wisconsin governor: Voters at risk from COVID-19

Local leaders warn Wisconsin governor: Voters at risk from COVID-19

From the The COVID-19 pandemic hits home: Keep up with the latest local news on the coronavirus outbreak series
City of Madison polling place, voting, State Journal generic file photo

Scores of local leaders sent Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers a letter Sunday warning him that the state isn’t doing enough to protect voters from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as the spring election approaches.

The April 7 election features Wisconsin’s presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local races. A number of states have postponed primaries in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread. But Evers has insisted Wisconsin’s election go on as scheduled, saying people should vote by absentee ballot rather than travel to the polls.

Wisconsin health officials said Sunday that the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped to 381, up from 281 a day earlier. Four people in the state have died from the respiratory disease. The number of confirmed cases reported in Dane County has grown to 61, up from the 49 cases reported Saturday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Almost 225 local leaders signed the letter telling Evers that the state hasn’t done enough to protect voters. They warned that people will gather in large numbers in government buildings for early in-person voting. The health risks will only multiply on April 7 at the polls, they said.

The leaders don’t say what Evers should do, only that “more needs to be one and done quickly.”

“These are not normal circumstances — and the potential for disenfranchisement is actually higher if we proceed like we are. Many people will stay away from the polls for fear of contacting COVID-19, or spreading it, unless something changes,” the letter said.

The signers included mayors, municipal administrators and clerks from all corners of the state.

Asked for comment, Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, pointed to a letter that Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, sent to Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe on Friday.

The letter states that the Department of Administration is working to secure more envelopes for absentee ballots and emergency management officials are trying to find hand sanitizer for poll workers as well as coordinating with volunteer organizations to recruit poll workers.

Also Sunday, the governor issued a pair of executive orders dealing with school closures and utility service cut-offs.

The first order allows school districts to request waivers from the state’s minimum number of instructional hours without listing a reason, the number of hours to be waived or describing efforts to make up the time. It also lifts requirements that the state Department of Public Instruction consider such information when issuing a waiver.

Wisconsin schools have been closed since March 16. It’s unclear whether lifting the waiver parameters signals classes won’t resume this year. Baldauff referred questions to DPI officials, who didn’t respond to an email late Sunday afternoon.

The second order prohibits utilities from disconnecting any customers — including commercial, industrial and farm accounts — for nonpayment. Previously this applied to residential accounts only. It also prohibits charging late fees and requires utilities to allow deferred payment agreements for any customer who requests them.

Also Sunday, the Wisconsin National Guard announced it had sent six medics to a senior living facility in Grafton to help bolster the staff for about three days. The facility asked the Guard for help after three residents and a caregiver tested positive for the virus. They were tested after a 91-year-old man in the memory care unit died Thursday. The man tested positive after his death but had underlying health symptoms.

Evers announced Saturday that he has directed state emergency management officials to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help in obtaining gear for first responders. The state is also trying to obtain more equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile.

So far the state has received about 52,000 N95 masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 25,000 face shields, 20,000 surgical gowns, 100 coveralls and 36,000 pairs of gloves from the stockpile. Those supplies are being distributed to health care providers in areas with community spread.

Photos: A look at how the novel coronavirus is affecting Wisconsin

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