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Wisconsin reports a record 104 COVID-19 deaths as Thanksgiving holiday weekend approaches
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COVID-19 | WISCONSIN

Wisconsin reports a record 104 COVID-19 deaths as Thanksgiving holiday weekend approaches

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With Wisconsin reporting a record 104 new COVID-19-related deaths Tuesday, state health officials are urging extra caution as the holiday weekend nears — along with the threat of a post-holiday surge in cases.

The state Department of Health Services reported 6,202 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to nearly 364,000 since the pandemic began. A total of 3,115 people have died from the coronavirus.

At the same time, Wisconsin’s seven-day average for positive tests has dropped from 36.5% on Nov. 12 to 28.7% Tuesday. DHS Secretary Andrea Palm cautioned that, unless extreme caution is taken during the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, the state could witness another surge, similar to those seen following other holidays this year.

“We hold in our own hands whether or not we see a surge on the backside of the Thanksgiving holiday, and I would urgently ask folks please to do their part so that our frontline health care workers and our hospital systems don’t become more overwhelmed,” Palm said on a media call with reporters.

Palm said delays in reporting earlier deaths could have led to Tuesday’s record number of deaths, but she added “whether it’s 104 today and that’s spread over the last three days or the last 24 hours, it is 104 deaths that were preventable and that remind us that we need to do everything we can to stop the spread of this disease.”

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said the downward trend in average daily cases does not appear to be “statistically significant,” but could indicate that cases are plateauing.

“That being said, the level of transmission and number of cases is critically high,” he said. “The easiest answer to the question, ‘are we flattening the curve?’ is no. The curve is very, very elevated. All communities have high disease activity and in that environment there’s risk of transmission to and from people who don’t know that they’re infected.”

Asked about whether precautions taken over Thanksgiving weekend to reduce the coronavirus’ spread could allow for more in-person gatherings in December, Palm said “we have considerable work to do” before residents can safely have such events. She noted that in addition to the sheer number of cases in Wisconsin, a fully deployed vaccine is still a ways off.

“I think it is absolutely something we should be striving for,” she said of following COVID-19 restrictions. “It is work that we need to do considering (that by) the end of the year we still will not be in a place where a vaccine is readily available,” she said, adding, “we have lots of work left to do and I would encourage folks to start that work over this weekend and into December, certainly.”

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No projection

With regard to the vaccine, Palm said the state has not yet received a projected number of doses Wisconsin would receive in an initial shipment.

“We obviously anxiously await that information,” she said. “This really is the light at the end of the tunnel that we all have been looking forward to.”

Palm said one thing that is known is the state will likely not receive enough doses of the vaccine in initial distributions to vaccinate all residents, so a team has been created to plan for dispersing that vaccine based on federal guidelines and recommendations from a state committee.

Legislation possible

Gov. Tony Evers said he remains optimistic that his meeting last Friday with incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, will result in legislation to further mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

Evers said his staff and staffers with both Republican leaders’ offices met again Tuesday, but he had not been briefed on that meeting at the time of Tuesday’s media call.

Evers wouldn’t speak to what measures both parties agreed to during last week’s meeting, noting “that was a private conversation among us.” He said he feels confident some of his proposals to renew legislation passed back in April could come to fruition. Many of those measures expired earlier this year along with the governor’s public health emergency.

The Democratic governor and GOP leaders have said they hope to meet again next week, but any legislation likely won’t come together until December or early next year at the soonest.


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