Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency in response to the growing number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Wisconsin, hours before two more cases of the respiratory disease were reported in Dane County Thursday.
With a total of seven positive cases in the state over the last week and one last month, state and local officials have expressed a growing urgency for residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, which has now been declared a pandemic nationally.
“This declaration allows us to access state resources to deal with this pandemic head on, care for those who need help and also limit the spread of the virus,” Evers said in making the announcement Thursday. “I want to assure everyone that those affected are receiving the best possible care and that all steps are being taken to stop the spread of this virus.”
Under the declaration, Evers has directed the Department of Health Services to “use all the resources necessary to respond to and contain the outbreak.”
That includes allowing DHS to purchase, store or distribute medications, regardless of whether it’s covered by insurance. The order also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs associated with isolation and quarantine and allow the use of the Wisconsin National Guard to aid in the effort.
Brigadier General Joane K. Matthews of the Wisconsin National Guard said the guard is mobilizing 30 airmen and soldiers to transport 37 Wisconsin residents who are returning from the Grand Princess Cruise Ship in Oakland, California, back to their homes after at least 20 people aboard tested positive for the virus.
Those being brought back to Wisconsin have been exposed to the virus, but officials said none have tested positive so far. They will be monitored and self-isolated for 14 days, but not placed under any form of quarantine, officials said.
In addition, DHS recommended canceling events that will draw more than 250 people. The department will provide guidance to those hosting smaller events to determine if they, too, should cancel.
Evers said a decision has not been made yet on whether to proceed with the Democratic National Convention, which is anticipated to draw more than 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee in July.
DHS Secretary Andrea Palm also recommended residents maintain a two-week supply of food in the event they have to self-isolate. And officials reiterated what has become a common refrain in this new era: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep your distance from others.
“’Wisconsin nice’ is going to have to have a different look to it in the future,” Evers said.
The department also cautioned against traveling to areas where the virus has become more widely spread both internationally, as well as within the United States.
“We understand that these significant steps are going to disrupt peoples’ lives but are making these recommendations to protect the lives of the most vulnerable members of our families, our communities and our state,” Palm said.
Two new cases
On Thursday, DHS and Public Health Madison and Dane County announced that two additional Dane County residents have contracted COVID-19.
Both individuals had contact with the Dane County case confirmed earlier this week and are being isolated at home, officials said in a statement.
“These cases should serve to remind all of us about the importance of social distancing and maintaining good hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease,” State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers said in a statement.
The state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified last month, also in Dane County. That person has since been released from isolation after recovering and has been declared disease-free after two subsequent tests came back negative.
Other confirmed cases have been identified in Pierce, Waukesha and Fond du Lac counties.
The outbreak has led to a wave of cancellations of sporting, art and cultural events including the 23rd annual Madison St. Patrick’s Day Parade around the state Capitol on Sunday and Saturday’s late-winter market at the Garver Feed Mill, the first time the organization has called off a market in its 48-year history.
Late Thursday, the organizers of Canoecopia at the Alliant Energy Center announced “with a very heavy heart” that the paddle sports extravaganza due to open Friday had been called off. So, too, was Thursday night’s performance by country singer Jason Aldean at the Dane County Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center. Throughout the state, organizations and businesses canceled or postponed many school functions, political events and social gatherings, including tours of the state Capitol.
UW-Madison announced this week it was suspending in-person classes for at least three weeks and asking its roughly 7,800 students living in residence halls to move out when spring break begins this weekend and plan to stay off campus at least through April 10.
So far, however, no schools have closed. If schools do close, Evers said, children and those who rely on schools or organizations for meals will be “a top priority.”