MADISON – More than 20,000 people could contract coronavirus and 1,000 could die within two weeks if Wisconsin residents don’t comply with Gov. Tony Evers orders to stay home, state health officials said Tuesday.
Evers on Tuesday ordered the closure of businesses and gathering places that aren’t considered essential until April 24 to try to curb the spread of the virus, which can cause serious respiratory illness and has no cure.
Without the order — which has been questioned widely by Republican lawmakers — the number of infected people in Wisconsin by April 8 could be 50 times larger than the 457 cases the state has today, Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Tuesday.
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In that time, about 1,000 people could die, citing research from Harvard University and Imperial College London, Palm and DHS chief medical officer Ryan Westergaard said in a call with reporters.
“We need folks to take the Safer At Home order I signed today seriously, folks,” Evers said Tuesday. “We need to have folks limit their interactions to the same people — not different small groups.”
Palm said Wisconsin residents should limit their interactions to five people total — not to five people in each interaction. Westergaard said how much the order keeps infections from reaching the 22,000 benchmark depends on how little people interact.
The projections come as new cases of the virus reported to DHS have grown by less than 10% for two days in a row.
Republican lawmakers questioned the need for the restrictions, citing lack of evidence presented to them supporting the measures.
“I have not been informed of any data that supports limited activities and interactions for more than a month of time,” Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said. “I have requested the exact modeling data that is being utilized to make these decisions. I believe our people will take precautions, but they must be assured that there is a reason for taking them.”
Under the order Evers signed Tuesday that will take effect 8 a.m. on Wednesday, gathering places like movie theaters, golf courses, fitness centers and playgrounds will be off-limits.
The order makes Wisconsin the 17th state in the nation to order such restrictions as the number of cases of coronavirus grows to more than 31,000 nationwide.
It is Evers’ 13th order in response to the coronavirus crisis in as many days and the first to draw widespread criticism from Republican lawmakers over its effect on the state economy.
The virus has sickened 457 people and claimed five lives just this month. It also has prompted closures of schools and businesses, resulting in more than 101,000 applications for unemployment in just nine days.
Public health experts say the more movement is limited, the more likely the health care system won’t be overwhelmed.
“What most concerns me right now would be if we as a country and as a state and as individuals and as communities don’t take social distancing seriously,” Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, said in a recent interview with WisconsinEye.
Kaufman said the state’s health care system has 11,000 hospital beds, 2,600 intensive care unit beds and 620 ventilators. Hospitals typically operate at 58% capacity, he said, which makes limiting infections crucial
But Republican lawmakers have questioned Evers’ decision to place further restrictions on business operations in the state, citing fears of an economic collapse. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Monday before the order was issued he didn’t agree with additional restrictions and wanted clearer communication from the governor.
Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the crisis requires a serious response but characterized the order as “using a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel to address this crisis.”
“The governor needs to rethink this order,” he said.
Evers made the announcement of a stay-at-home order on Monday, just three days after saying he did not think he would have to issue such an order but also noted he could change his mind depending on advice from public health experts.
Evers said he is seeking to prevent deaths and also a significant blow to the economy by exempting many businesses.
“Obviously we want a strong economy, who the hell doesn’t?” he said. “But we have to value a human life at a higher level. I think we can do both and that’s what this order is all about.”
In addition to previous closures of bars, restaurants and indoor malls, Tuesday’s order also closes playgrounds, zoos, movie theaters, clothing stores, clubhouses, swimming pools, concert venues and bowling alleys. Landscapers and lawn service companies also are among the workers who won’t be exempt from the order.
Though Evers’ order requires most residents to stay home, it also allows scores of businesses and workplaces to stay open including big box retailers like Target, Walmart and Staples, labor unions, and day cares.
Among the businesses that may stay open are:
- Grocery stores
- Eye care centers
- Convenience stores
- Gas stations
- Pet supply stores
- Liquor stores
- Businesses that provide food and beverage manufacturing, processing and distribution
- Animal shelters
- Insurance offices
- Hardware stores
- Trades, like carpenters, electricians and plumbers
- Post Offices, and other mailing and shipping services
- Businesses that sell office supplies and IT equipment
- Transportation services like Uber and Lyft, taxi cab companies and public buses
- Hotels and motels that close swimming pools, hot tubs and gyms
A number of manufacturing, distribution and supply chain companies also will be allowed to stay open, including those that supply products and services for industries such as pharmaceutical, food and beverage, sanitation, waste pickup and disposal, steel products, national defense, mining, construction and communications, among other industries. Firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security also may continue operations.
Police officers, firefighters, EMS workers, building inspectors, court personnel, jurors, and child welfare workers, among others, also will continue working.
Also under the order, all public and private gatherings of any number of people that are not part of a single household are banned. Wisconsinites may visit public and state parks but may not engage in team sports, like basketball or soccer.
Weddings and funerals may still take place, but only in groups of 10 people or fewer.
You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here.
Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
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