Wisconsin broke the record for new positive coronavirus cases on Friday for the third time in a week as a surge that began in early September shows no signs of abating.
The state also hit record highs for daily deaths and hospitalizations this week as a third lawsuit was filed alleging that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had overstepped his authority by issuing public health emergencies and implementing a statewide mask mandate and capacity limits for bars and restaurants.
The state Department of Health Services reported 3,861 new coronavirus cases in Wisconsin on Friday, breaking the previous record set just a day earlier of 3,747. To date, more than 166,000 people have tested positive and 1,574 have died. The seven-day average for new cases was 3,052, marking the first time it had topped 3,000.
Wisconsin continued its record-setting pace for hospitalizations, hitting a new high of 1,101 patients on Friday. That was up from 1,043 the day before, the previous record. A field hospital to handle overflow patients opened near Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Evers, who has repeatedly blamed Republicans who control the Legislature for blocking his efforts to get the virus under control, launched a TV ad critical of GOP lawmakers Friday. Republicans are part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s mask mandate, and the Tavern League of Wisconsin is suing to overturn Evers’ order limiting capacity in bars and restaurants.
A third lawsuit was filed Friday asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to rule that Evers overstepped his authority in issuing subsequent public health emergency orders after the first one expired in May. Jeré Fabick, a policy adviser at the conservative Heartland Institute who lives in Waukesha County, asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly, skipping lower courts.
The district announced Friday it will continue with fully online instruction for the second quarter, which runs Nov. 2 through Jan. 22.
State law limits health emergencies to 60 days, but the Legislature can grant an extension. Evers has issued new health orders, arguing that he can do that because the threat caused by the pandemic has changed.
All three lawsuits argue that the circumstances that led to the first health emergency — the pandemic — have not changed and therefore Evers’ actions are illegal.
Evers has faulted Republicans for fighting him in court and not coming forward with a plan of their own.
Evers’ campaign is now putting money behind his criticism, with his first television ad released during the pandemic. It’s part of a six-figure buy running in the Green Bay, La Crosse/Eau Claire and Milwaukee media markets, his campaign said. Evers is not on the ballot on Nov. 3, but two Republican legislative leaders shown in the ad are. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is running for reelection and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is running for Congress in an open seat. Wisconsin is also a battleground in the presidential race.
The ad also shows a clip of President Donald Trump removing his face mask, while a narrator says, “Republicans are playing politics with our pandemic response.” Trump is scheduled to hold a rally Saturday in Janesville.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that attendees of Trump’s airport rally will have to park at Blackhawk Technical College about 2½ miles away and take shuttle buses to the event.
Rock County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Turner said she was not aware of what precautions might be taken to protect riders.
“Any type of gathering presents the potential for spread of the virus, and we are currently discouraging gatherings of any kind,” she said. “We hope that anyone who does choose to attend a gathering of any kind does so in the safest manner possible, taking precautions to keep themselves and others safe. This includes wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, and washing your hands.”
Meanwhile, Rock and Chippewa counties are among those asking people who test positive for COVID-19 to assist with contact tracing efforts.
“Despite increased staffing and the assistance of the state contact tracing team, the number of people to be contacted has now exceeded the capacity of the Rock County Public Health Department,” Rock County Public Health Director Marie-Noel Sandoval said. “We are no longer able to conduct the same level of contact tracing that we would during a typical outbreak.”
Chippewa County announced that health officials will no longer be contacting all potential contacts of those who test positive, instead only contacting those who are deemed “high-risk.”
Those contacts include students and school teachers, those who have visited bars or restaurants, health care workers, day care workers, and all household contacts, Wisconsin Public Radio News reported.
Public health officials say one reason for surging cases is people lacking the knowledge of who might be sick.
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