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State officials: Post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge may not be here yet
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COVID-19 | WISCONSIN

State officials: Post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge may not be here yet

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While Wisconsin has yet to see a major increase in COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, state officials say a recent drop in testing and delays in reported cases could be masking a potential surge.

The state Department of Health Services reported 4,114 COVID-19 cases and another 68 deaths Tuesday, bringing the totals to more than 418,000 cases and 3,806 deaths since the pandemic began.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, Traci DeSalvo, acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said the seven-day average of positive cases has dropped slightly, but added “we are still seeing significant numbers of cases.”

“I think it is a little bit too early to say that we have found maybe everyone who might have been sick after Thanksgiving, and we want to make sure that people continue to go and get a test,” DeSalvo said.

DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said one concerning trend is a drop in daily tests being administered across the state. The seven-day average of daily tests sat at about 29,500 Tuesday, compared with more than 39,000 one week ago, she said.

“Our current positivity rate remains quite high, which is an indication that we are not testing enough to gain an accurate picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Palm said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have declined since a peak of 2,277 on Nov. 17, increased by 64 patients Monday, to 1,556, as health systems continue to be challenged in caring for patients with the coronavirus.

State officials said they don’t know exactly why the number of tests has dropped, but encouraged anyone who feels they need a test to get one.

Vaccine on way

While the state expects to see the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses yet this month, Palm said it remains to be seen when Wisconsinites can expect to get vaccinated and begin to shift back toward more normal activities.

“I think some of this really does depend on how many vaccine candidates make it across the finish line, in what time frame and what is their manufacturing capacity,” Palm said.

The state expects to receive the first round of Pfizer’s vaccine — 49,725 doses have been allocated — in the coming weeks. DHS also anticipates an initial shipment of about 16,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine. At least two other vaccines may be considered for approval later.

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DHS plans to prioritize Wisconsin’s roughly 450,000 health care workers, as well as long-term care facility residents. After that, priority will be given to other population groups that could include essential workers, individuals over the age of 65 or those with existing medical conditions. Officials estimate that immunizations may not be available to the general public until the summer.

“Our best guess is in the late summer/fall time frame, but again that will change and evolve as we learn and understand more about the number of vaccines that are at our disposal, when they are coming online and how many of them will be made available,” Palm said.

Legislation possible

Gov. Tony Evers said he had another “good conversation” on Monday with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, regarding potential COVID-19 legislation.

Evers said he still hopes a bipartisan agreement can be reached to pave the way for legislative action yet this year.

“One of the issues that’s facing us is, even though (LeMahieu) is doing a great job in participating in these meetings … (Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau) has pretty much nixed the idea of meeting in December before the end of the calendar year, which in and of itself is a problem,” Evers said.

With Fitzgerald elected to Congress last month, LeMahieu has been selected to take over as Senate majority leader next month. Fitzgerald’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Evers has proposed a roughly $541 million package, while Vos has laid out one worth $100 million. LeMahieu, however, has proposed using some of the state’s surplus medical assistance funds to address pandemic needs — which Evers called “unacceptable” last week.

Also in question is whether Congress will approve additional federal funds to prevent a lapse in the state’s pandemic response efforts. Any unused federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds are set to expire at the end of the month, while Evers estimated the state will need $466 million in the first quarter of next year in order to maintain existing state measures.

“Our work is not done on Jan. 1, that’s for sure,” Evers said. “It will continue on for a greater part of the next year.”

Last week, President Donald Trump extended federal funding of the National Guard’s COVID-19 relief efforts through the end of March. The White House denied requests from several states for the federal government to cover all costs, meaning states will have to continue to pay for 25% of expenses.


Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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