Updates on coronavirus and how it’s affecting life in Wisconsin from reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the USA Today Network-Wisconsin.
Updated Live Blog: Friday’s coverage of coronavirus around Wisconsin
Blog Recap: Wednesday’s coronavirus updates
Daily Digest: What you need to know about coronavirus in Wisconsin
More Coverage: Coronavirus in the U.S. and around the world
8:20 p.m.: Bartolotta Restaurants end takeout service, close entirely
The 950-employee Bartolotta Restaurants group ended its curbside takeout service today to close its restaurants entirely during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We hope our actions show we care deeply for our employees and encourage more people to stay home. We also hope it signals our government that we are ready for them to take stronger actions regarding social distancing and separation” during the coronavirus pandemic, reads the written statement from owner Paul Bartolotta.
The group operates restaurants including the fine dining Bacchus and Lake Park Bistro, along with Mr. B’s steakhouse, Ristorante Bartolotta, Harbor House and others, and has catering operations at the Grain Exchange, Discovery World and elsewhere.
A statement from the group said funds from customers’ purchases of restaurant gift cards would go toward extending employee health care and helping the restaurants to reopen.
Like other restaurants and organizations, it has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for workers.
The group is covering medical benefits for employees at least through March 31, and through April 30 if there is no government assistance, according to the statement.
The restaurants are distributing their inventory of food to its employees to take home. Salaried employees will be paid “for as long as it is possible,” the group said.
The move follows Milwaukee restaurant groups Lowlands and Hospitality Democracy on Thursday in abandoning takeout efforts to shut down their restaurants.
— Carol Deptolla
8 p.m.: Barrett in self-quarantine
Mayor Tom Barrett will be going into a 14 day self-quarantine after he came in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“I am following best practices by self-isolating,” Barrett said late Thursday. “In an effort to maintain social distancing the last several days, I have been continuing my duties and responsibilities by teleconference and videoconference and I expect to do the same during this time of self-quarantine.”
Barrett came into contact last Friday with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
He participated in a virtual news conference at 4 p.m. Thursday with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik and others after being absent from an in-person news conference Wednesday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
— Ashley Luthern and Mary Spicuzza
7:11 p.m.: Wisconsin sees first two deaths due to coronavirus
A man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County and a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County both have died from COVID-19, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday.
Out of the 155 cases confirmed as of Thursday afternoon, these are the first two deaths. Confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in 21 Wisconsin counties. The state’s daily total of confirmed cases grew by 49 to 155 on Thursday.
— Natalie Brophy
6:45 p.m.: Madison paper Isthmus closes down
The Madison-based alt-weekly newspaper Isthmus is shuttering indefinitely amid the widespread closures of restaurants and bars and cancellations of concerts and events.
The newspaper announced the closure Thursday in a blog post. Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday limited gatherings to 10 people and ordered bars, restaurants and malls to close.
“We have spent countless hours trying to figure a way through this,” the article reads. “But in the end, we can’t find a way. Isthmus financially depends on people coming together for concerts, food, drink, lectures, movies and more. And when it all goes away at once, we are left without options.”
Isthmus leadership will use the time away to figure out their next steps, according to the article.
“We have decided that if there is any chance of seeing life on the other side of this storm, Isthmus must go dark for an undetermined amount of time,” the article reads.
— Sophie Carson
6 p.m.: Punch Bowl Social lays off all 91 workers
Punch Bowl Social, the restaurant and entertainment venue outside of Fiserv Forum, filed a mass layoff notice with the state Department of Workforce Development for all of its 91 employees.
Punch Bowl Social, 1122 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave., was forced to close after Gov. Tony Evers’ directive to shut down bars and restaurants in the state. While other large establishments have had to close due to the pandemic, Punch Bowl Social took the additional step of filing a warning notice with the state, a step not seen by other large employers in Wisconsin who closed following Evers’ order.
The restaurant and bar with bowling lanes, private karaoke rooms and other games closed March 16. The company said employees were let go so they could collect unemployment.
“Punch Bowl Social is built on bringing people together to make meaningful connections over food, drink and social games, but this moment in time requires us all to make sacrifices for the common good,” the Colorado-based chain said in a statement. “Social distancing is important.”
— Sarah Hauer
5:45 p.m.: Congressional delegation to FDA: ‘Wisconsin needs your help NOW’
Saying “Wisconsin needs your help NOW,” the state’s congressional delegation asked the Food and Drug Administration Thursday to direct more coronavirus testing supplies to Wisconsin, citing the “dire consequences” of a testing bottleneck at hospitals.
In an interview, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said that because hospitals are running out of supplies for things like swabs and protective gear and reagents for analysis of samples, the promise of testing “becomes an empty promise.”
“The lack of clinic and hospital-based personal protective equipment for our health care providers is alarming,” she said more broadly. “Everything from the sophisticated respirators to face masks to gowns to gloves.”
The letter asked the FDA what it is doing to ensure adequate supplies, how it is distributing supplies within Wisconsin, and whether suppliers are “redirecting supplies originally slated to go to Wisconsin to other states that have a higher number of confirmed COVID-19 cases or with larger population concentrations.”
The bipartisan letter was signed by both Wisconsin senators and the state’s seven currently serving House members.
— Craig Gilbert
5:30 p.m.: County clerk will continue to issue marriage licenses
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson has suspended all counter service for his office except for issuing marriage licenses, which he said he must continue doing by state law and as one of his constitutional duties.
He doesn’t expect and hoped people wouldn’t be coming for such a license but he must still offer that. He is only accepting marriage applications by appointment. The counter will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. For more information, click here.
And the April 7 election remains scheduled and polling sites in county parks will be open that day despite the parks being closed because of COVID-19. The buildings will be sanitized and safe, Christenson said.
He also said Milwaukee County workers could be released from their regular duties, with pay, and be tapped to work the polls if there is shortage of poll workers. He also said the public and media will need to be patient to count ballots with so many absentee ballots coming in.
— John Diedrich
5:25 p.m.: Some city parking rules relaxed
The city of Milwaukee is suspending all timed, metered and night parking restrictions to help folks who are home because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Vehicles will not need night parking permits or be required to park on alternate sides of the street each evening.
However, that doesn’t mean motorists are free to ignore other parking regulations. Parking enforcement officers will continue to focus on safety-related violations including unauthorized parking in a handicapped spot, parking too close to fire hydrants, crosswalks and driveways and obstructing lanes for street cars, bicycles and other traffic.
Also the city will continue to enforce restrictions against parking in loading zones, including carryout zones. All vehicles in loading or carryout zones must be attended.
— Meg Jones
5:15 p.m.: 300 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers mobilized
Around 300 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers have been mobilized for the coronavirus outbreak ranging from people to help with logistics and transporting more Wisconsinites returning from California after quarantining from a cruise to medics who could help with test kit collection.
“Those soldiers are working and preparing for really any kind of mission the state requests of us,” said guard spokesman Capt. Joe Trovato. “We’ve been working pretty closely with our partners in state government.”
The 300 are from different units spread throughout the state,particularly medics who have been mobilized to begin preparing to collect coronavirus specimens if needed. Though the Wisconsin National Guard has nurses, doctors and other medical professionals in its ranks, guard officials at this point are not activating them for duty.
“Most of them are medical professionals in their communities and we’re very sensitive to pulling people out of their civilian jobs where they’re needed in those communities right now,” Trovato said.
Late Sunday a flight from California with 29 Wisconsinites who had been on a cruise to Hawaii when the coronavirus outbreak occurred in the U.S. and were held in quarantine in Oakland landed at Volk Field in Camp Douglas. Those passengers were given rides home by 13 Wisconsin National Guard troops who volunteered for the mission.
Another seven Wisconsin residents from that cruise are expected to arrive in Wisconsin soon and the same guard members who volunteered for the first mission will drive them home.
Also Thursday, Trovato said all weekend drills for National Guard units in the state are postponed for April. Typically each guard unit serves one weekend a month at their local armory but because of the coronavirus outbreak, all drills for April will be served another time.
“Bringing all those troops together and congregating in armories around the state, we’re concerned about spreading the virus among our own troops,” Trovato said.
— Meg Jones
5 p.m.: S.C. Johnson pledges $5 million
S.C. Johnson announced Thursday that has pledged $5 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The Racine-based maker of cleaning products said it has committed $5 million in products and cash “to support he urgent public needs and those on the front lines.”
The company has previously committed $2 million, including $1 million to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, and other donations to efforts in China, Italy and the United Kingdom.
“I am incredibly proud of all the people of SC Johnson who are committed to providing support to those around the world dealing with this crisis and experiencing its impact firsthand,” said Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of S.C. Johnson. “From medical professionals and first responders to school children, we hope this commitment will help provide some relief.”
— Mary Spicuzza
4:45 p.m.: UW System will refund housing and dining costs
The University of Wisconsin System announced all UW schools would provide prorated refunds on room and board for students who vacate university housing this spring.
Most UW schools have announced the move to remote or online classes will run through the end of the semester, at least. The reimbursements will be issued by the end of the semester.
“We recognize the tremendous upheaval this pandemic has inflicted on the lives of our students, and we appreciate their patience and their sacrifice,” System President Ray Cross said. “This reimbursement is the right thing to do.”
— Devi Shastri
4:30 p.m.: Milwaukee County has 64 cases, including 41 in the city
The City of Milwaukee now has 41 confirmed cases of coronavirus, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Thursday. Those are among the 64 confirmed cases reported in Milwaukee County.
Among the cases in the suburbs: Whitefish Bay – 6; Oak Creek – 5; Shorewood – 4; Wauwatosa, West Allis and Glendale – 2; Greenfield and Franklin – 1.
Milwaukee County is now tracking its confirmed cases online here.
The age group of 40 to 49-year-olds has the most cases in the county, with 17 cases. Fourteen Milwaukee residents ages 20 to 29 have coronavirus, according to the online dashboard. Twenty people ages 50 and up have tested positive.
Milwaukee County officials also confirmed Thursday that a Milwaukee County Election Commission worker has tested positive for coronavirus.
The woman, who is over 60 years old, had recently been on vacation and has not been in the Milwaukee County Courthouse since March 10, Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said.
She developed symptoms on March 14, and officials said they don’t believe staff in County Clerk’s office or the Milwaukee County Election Commission has been put at risk.
The woman is recovering at home, Christenson said.
— Mary Spicuzza
4 p.m.: Unemployment claims spike
More than 29,400 new unemployment claims were made in Wisconsin so far this week as the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants, bars and other businesses.
That number of claims were made between Sunday and Wednesday, according to preliminary claim filing totals from the U.S. Department of Labor. These are preliminary numbers and subject to change.
In the prior week, around 5,200 new unemployment claims were filed. The number of claims this week is nearly six times higher — and the week isn’t even over yet.
The pace of claims is accelerating, the data shows. Around 14,800 of those were made Wednesday alone. On Tuesday, more than 8,400 claims were filed. More than 4,000 were filed Monday and around 1,500 Sunday.
— Sarah Hauer
3:35 p.m.: DNR closes all campsites and visitor centers but parks remain open
Wisconsin state parks and trails remain open, but the DNR is closing all campsites through April 30.
Refunds will be issued to customers, and new reservations will not be accepted until further notice.
In addition, the DNR is closing to the public state buildings including park headquarters, offices, visitor centers, nature centers, research stations, ranger stations, shooting ranges, fish hatcheries, shelters, showers, concessions, and indoor group camp buildings on all DNR-owned properties.
For now, admission fees to state properties are voluntary at self-registration or electronic kiosks.
“We recognize that spending time outdoors benefits both physical and mental health. Getting outdoors can also help relieve stress, especially during this public health emergency. A quiet walk does wonders to reduce our anxieties,” DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole said in a news release.
“The DNR is committed to providing a safe environment for our visitors to enjoy, while protecting the health of our staff.”
— Chelsey Lewis
3:25 p.m.: Baldwin, Pocan introduce bill to test deployed soldiers
After Department of Defense officials admitted there is no way for U.S. troops serving in the Middle East to get tested for coronavirus in those countries, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan on Thursday introduced legislation requiring test kits for American military members serving overseas.
Worried families of Wisconsin service members deployed to Afghanistan where there are confirmed coronavirus cases contacted Baldwin and Pocan, prompting the Wisconsin lawmakers to write letters to senior military officials asking about the status of testing for Americans at overseas bases.
Late last week, the Defense Department confirmed there is no way to test service members in countries where they are serving, and instead samples are currently being sent from the Middle East to Germany for testing.
Baldwin and Pocan’s bill would require the Secretary of Defense to make coronavirus testing available for service members in the Middle East within one week of enactment. It would also require a report from the Defense Department on its formal policies provided to all service members about how they can be tested for coronavirus.
Among Wisconsinites serving in the Middle East are nearly 400 soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment who deployed last summer to Afghanistan for a year-long security and training mission.
— Meg Jones
2:15 p.m.: Wisconsin case total jumps to 155
Twenty-one Wisconsin counties are now reporting cases of the coronavirus as the state’s daily total of confirmed cases grew by 49 to 155 on Thursday afternoon.
The state’s total included 62 confirmed cases in Milwaukee County, 27 in Dane County, 14 in Fond du Lac County, 12 in Waukesha County, six in Sheboygan County, five in Winnebago County, four each in Columbia and Kenosha counties, three each in Racine and Ozaukee counties, two each in Washington, Walworth, La Crosse and Brown counties and one each in Bayfield, Calumet, Eau Claire, Outagamie, Pierce, Sauk and Wood counties.
As of Thursday, nearly 2,200 Wisconsinites had tested negative.
— Madeline Heim
2 p.m.: State closes offices for disabled persons employment program
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development announced it is closing all offices dedicated to a program meant to advance the employment of people with disabilities.
Starting Thursday, all offices for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation will be suspended until further notice, according to a press release. Staff will continue providing services by phone and email during business hours.
Anyone currently in the program is encouraged to contact their assigned DVR staff person directly by phone or email. Members of the public seeking information about DVR services can still visit its website or call 800-442-3477.
– Elliot Hughes
12:55 p.m.: Grocers announce special hours for vulnerable populations
Starting March 20, all of Roundy’s Metro Market and Pick ‘n Save grocery stores in Wisconsin will be open from 6 to 8 a.m. daily only to shoppers most at-risk during the coronavirus outbreak — seniors and those with compromised immune systems.
The grocer did not specify a minimum age for its older shoppers.
“We encourage our customers to respect these designated store hours for seniors and to plan their shopping trips around this time-frame,” said Roundy’s Division President Michael Marx.
– Carol Deptolla
12:31 p.m.: Wisconsin Democrats scale back state convention
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced Thursday that it will cut its state convention to one day and cancel all congressional district conventions.
The convention is now scheduled for June 12 at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells and will include only limited speeches and reports and election of delegates to the national convention.
Party Chair Ben Wikler is also authorized to determine no later than May whether to hold an in-person or virtual or state convention.
The changes were approved Wednesday night during an emergency meeting of the party’s administrative committee.
The 2020 Democratic Convention is scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee.
– Bill Glauber
Wisconsin deals with the coronavirus on the first day of spring. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
12:20 p.m.: Coronavirus has hit one of Wisconsin’s prisons
Eighteen inmates have been quarantined and 11 prison medical workers have been sent home after a doctor at Waupun Correctional Institution was infected with coronavirus.
“Be assured we as an institution and a department are taking this situation very seriously,” Warden Brian Foster told staff in an email late Wednesday.
Foster was not specific in his email about who had been infected, but two people familiar with operations at the maximum-security prison said it was a doctor who had recently been out of the country.
Rep. Michael Schraa, a Republican from Oshkosh who chairs the Assembly Corrections Committee, provided the details on the number of inmates and medical workers affected.
– Patrick Marley
9:43 a.m.: Lowlands Group closes 8 restaurants completely
Lowlands Group, which operates eight restaurants in the Milwaukee area and Madison, said Thursday it was halting its delivery and takeout operations, perhaps the first restaurants to close completely after trying a takeout-only model on the heels of the state’s bar and restaurant shutdown. “We have explored every option of how best to move forward, but looking out at the expected length and scope of this crisis, we don’t feel that remaining open for delivery and carryout is worth the risk to our employees,” the group says on its website.
“This has been a tough decision between continuing to pay our staff — who wants to remain working as long as possible — and shutting down to ensure their safety, and the safety of the community,” the group continued. “We hope the proposed national stimulus aid package is passed quickly and targets those most in need, including hourly and tipped service industry workers. Our entire industry will need this if it is to come out of the other side resembling anything like it was a week ago.”
The group is paying its hourly staff through March 22 at 40% above minimum wage; continuing to pay 75% of salaries to key salaried staff; creating a back-to-work bonus program to reward key, laid-off hourly staff who choose to return when restaurants reopen; paying all of insurance costs for April including the employee portion so families are covered; and distributing all perishable food inventory to staff to take home.
Lowlands operates five Café Hollander locations, Café Benelux in the Third Ward, Buckatabon Tavern & Supper Club in Wauwatosa and Centraal Grand Café & Tappery in Bay View. It has 633 hourly and salaried employees. After Sunday, all hourly staff will be laid off and about 100 salaried employees will be retained.
– Carol Deptolla
9:02 a.m.: Summerfest weighing contingencies amid pandemic
Most of the headliners are booked, construction is ongoing at the amphitheater and Summerfest officials say they’re moving “full-steam ahead” for this summer’s Big Gig.
But just in case, they’re also weighing the potential economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down large chunks of the American hospitality and entertainment sector, including live music events.
During a Milwaukee World Festival Board meeting conducted via teleconference Thursday, officials said they are now looking into financial contingency planning.
“We’ve looked into the implications of what this might mean if this goes longer than what people think,” said Don Smiley, Summerfest CEO. “So, what does that mean? That means we’ve looked at an outright cancellation, we looked at the event going forward with only half the attendance we’ve budgeted. We looked at the attendance with three-quarters of the attendance that we’ve budgeted.”
Smiley added, “We looked at later start times. We looked at many different scenarios and contingencies, simply not knowing at this time what we’re going to be faced with.”
Smiley was also asked about the touring status of the main acts already booked by Summerfest.
“There has been plenty of festivals that have either picked up and postponed or canceled all together prior to our date,” Smiley said. “So far, we haven’t had any wholesale tours that have outright canceled our date. That’s a very fluid situation, day to day …”
Smiley added, “right now, we’re full steam ahead until we’re not. We’re monitoring this hour by hour, day by day.”
Summerfest is scheduled to run June 24 to 28 and June 30 to July 5.
– Bill Glauber
9:22 p.m.: 3 Froedtert Hospital locations end inpatient visitation
Froedtert Hospital, Froedtert Menomonee Falls and Froedtert West Best Hospital are no longer allowing inpatient visitors.
“We continue to be faced with very difficult decisions to provide the safest environment for our patients, staff and visitors,” Froedtert Health said in a statement Wednesday night.
The policy goes into effect Thursday.
The hospital said exceptions may be made for end of life care and other limited situations.
— Mary Spicuzza
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