Live coronavirus updates: City and county budget forecasts paint grim picture

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Governor Tony Evers and DHS secretary Andrea Palm give an update to Wisconsin’s Covid-19 response. April 13, 2020. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Updates on coronavirus and how it’s affecting life in Wisconsin from reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

Blog Recap: Friday’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

MONDAY, APRIL 13

City and county officials say they are looking ahead to worrisome budget forecasts related to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett were asked Monday about any discussions to institute furloughs – unpaid time off – for government workers. They said there are no plans for furloughs right now, but acknowledged declining revenues.

“We’re all very dependent, in terms of our revenue, on the economy and the economy slowed down,” Abele said. “We’re going to have a lot less to work with.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to preserve essential services as much as possible (and) balance that with preserving whatever jobs we can, but you know I like to think I’m a good manager, but I’m not a magician,” Abele added. “When you have to start out a year with a massively larger hole in your budget than you had the year before, you know, you can’t do everything you could before.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett emphasized the majority of city property tax dollars are spent on public works and the police and fire departments. Spending is increasing in the Health Department, which Barrett said is understandable and needed. That increased cost is expected to be offset by federal dollars to address the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“We’re continuing to do almost on a daily basis an analysis on where we go from here,” Barrett said. “It’s very much something we’re monitoring very, very closely, but obviously we haven’t made any announcements up to this point.”

– Ashley Luthern

An overflow facility for coronavirus patients at Wisconsin State Fair Park will open next week – and organizers are recruiting current and retired health workers for jobs there.

The Alternate Care Facility, as it’s known, is located inside the large Exposition Center at State Fair Park, where the Army Corps of Engineers has been constructing 10-foot-by-10-foot rooms for patients.

“We have the ability to go up to over 700 beds if we need to,” Debra Standridge, the facility’s chief executive officer, said Monday during a news briefing with Milwaukee officials.

Patients who are positive for COVID-19 will be admitted directly from the hospital to the facility for continuing care.

“They need extra time to get their energy back, to begin to feel better, maybe they need some additional oxygen, they need some additional IVs, but they’re coming to us to spend a few days to recover, while they are transitioning back to home,” Standridge said.

Recruitment is underway for health care workers, current and recently retired, to staff the facility.

“We are at a very critical point in recruiting,” said Celia Shaughnessy, chief human resources officers for the facility. “These are both paid and volunteer positions.”

“Our goal is for Monday to at least be able to staff for the first 100 beds,” Shaughnessy said, adding: “Just to be very clear, our staff and professionals here are not intended to replace existing healthcare facilities, nor pull essential staff from area hospitals.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stressed that the facility is “essentially an insurance policy.”

“It’s moving at a very quick pace, but I hope it’s never used,” Barrett said. “I hope that there are more workers that are building (it) than there will be patients who use it.”

The facility is a partnership among Milwaukee area health systems, the state of Wisconsin, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Wisconsin National Guard, Milwaukee County, the city of Milwaukee, the city of West Allis and other municipal city leaders. Officials have said funding is coming from FEMA but have not provided a specific cost for the facility.

Those who want to learn more about how to work or volunteer at the facility are asked to go online to the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry at weavrwi.org.

– Ashley Luthern

6 p.m. Capitol opens Tuesday for public to view Assembly session

For the first time since March 26, the state Capitol will open to the public on Tuesday for anyone who wants to watch the Assembly session on coronavirus legislation.

The Capitol in Madison will open at noon Tuesday, one hour before the 1 p.m. session, and close one hour after the Assembly finishes.

The Assembly session will be broadcast live on WisconsinEye – wiseye.org – as well as in the Capitol rotunda for public viewing. Seating will be available in the rotunda spaced 10 feet apart.

The Capitol closed March 26 to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Lawmakers are expected to pass sweeping legislation that would give the unemployed more benefits, provide insurance protections for those infected with coronavirus, shield health care providers from liability and allow the state to claim an extra $150 million in federal aid every three months.

Read the story here.

– Meg Jones

4:50 p.m.: Officials heartened by possible slowing of virus rate

Milwaukee officials expressed cautious optimism Monday at the apparent slowing rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“I do think we are beginning to see some signs of progress,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “But we also know that we’re nowhere near out of the woods.”

But more time is needed to determine definitively if there is a downward trend, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said.

As of Monday afternoon, the city had recorded a total of 1,338 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 65 related deaths, Kowalik said.

Recent events  – holidays and last week’s election – may have led to more people being exposed to COVID-19.

“We know that some people may have snuck out and spent some time with some family members,” Kowalik said, referring to Easter and Passover. “Just look for the next two weeks to see if numbers continue to flatten or if we’ll see a spike.”

“We’re hoping for the best, but we also acknowledge that the election activities definitely set us back on our path,” Kowalik said.

– Ashley Luthern

The Milwaukee Brewers announced last month they’d be establishing a $1 million fund to provide financial assistance to Miller Park game-day employees whose jobs have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and now some of the team’s most familiar faces are now stepping up to the plate, as well.

Ryan Braun was the first to commit with a $100,000 contribution to the initial $1 million fund and Bob Uecker followed suit with $50,000, the team announced on Monday. Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Corey Knebel, Josh Lindblom and Brent Suter are also taking part for a total pledge of $300,000 from the group of seven.

“Milwaukee is a second home to us, and the fans and staff at Miller Park are like family,” Braun said in a statement released by the team.

Read the full story here.

— Todd Rosiak

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2:43 p.m.: For first time since safer-at-home order, new cases dip below 100 in Wisconsin

For the first time since Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order took effect March 25, Wisconsin’s single-day increase in positive COVID-19 tests was below 100 on Monday.

Eighty-seven more people had tested positive for the coronavirus by the Department of Health Services’ mid-day count. Overall, 154 people had died in the state from the virus, according to the DHS.

State officials said in a Monday press briefing that the lower increase may have been partly due to fewer people seeking care over the holiday weekend, but Evers said “you’re starting to see Wisconsin flattening the curve.”

In Milwaukee County, local officials said 86 people were confirmed to have died from the virus as of Monday afternoon.

The state health department listed 94 Milwaukee County deaths Monday. But Karen Domagalski, operations manager for the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, thought the state might be counting some deaths twice as more than one agency reported the same death to the state.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the subject Monday afternoon.

Also reported Monday were virus-related deaths in Jackson and Door counties. No information was available on the Jackson County person. The Door County patient was a man in his 70s who was hospitalized and had multiple underlying medical conditions, according to Door County Public Health.

Read more here.

— Sophie Carson

2:15 p.m.: Suspension of jury trials extended in Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County residents won’t be summoned for jury duty until June, after court officials decided to extend the current suspension of jury trials.

Chief Judge Mary Triggiano said she and Clerk of Circuit Court John Barrett concluded that with so much uncertainty surrounding when the COVID-19 emergency will ease,  and with most experts predicting social-distancing rules lasting into summer, it only made sense.    

Triggiano said even if most of the courthouse returns to more normal operations by then, summoning large numbers of people in for jury duty, and having them gathered together before being sent out in groups of 30 or more for potential selection as juror in specific cases, would present too high a risk.

“We can always re-evaluate and bring jurors back earlier,” she said.  Her earlier order had suspended jury trials until May 22.

— Bruce Vielmetti

1:55 p.m.: Faith leaders craft prayer collection for believers

Eighteen faith leaders from the Milwaukee area have prepared prayers or reflections for believers during the pandemic.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee compiled the statements from leaders in the Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh traditions, among others.

Find the collection here

— Sophie Carson

1:26 p.m.: Boldt to assemble isolation rooms for medical facilities

The Boldt Company, based in Appleton, says it is assembling modular isolation rooms which medical facilities can use to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Known as airborne infection isolation rooms, they can be connected with each other or to a hospital building, providing segregated spaces for patient care and health care workers. The flexibility of the units allow for additional capacity to be added where it’s needed.

The first of the units, under construction now, will be shipped to the East Coast.

The Boldt Company, a building design and construction firm, partnered with HGA, a health care architectural firm in Milwaukee, for the project.

— Rick Barrett

1:20 p.m.: More than 360K new unemployment claims in Wisconsin since outbreak

More than 360,000 new unemployment claims have been filed in Wisconsin since March 15, according to preliminary data from the state’s Department of Workforce Development. 

Nearly 9,000 new claims were made over the weekend with 6,198 initial claims filed on Sunday. 

Saturday, 2,715 new claims were made — the lowest single day of claims since businesses like bars and restaurants were forced to close.

— Sarah Hauer

1:10 p.m.: Class-action lawsuit asks for re-vote of April 7 election

Another lawsuit has been filed in the wake of last week’s controversial election, seeking a re-vote option for those who were denied a chance to vote because their absentee ballots didn’t arrive or couldn’t vote in person because of health concerns.

The suit, the eighth filed regarding the timing of the Spring Election amid a safer-at-home order, was filed in federal court in Madison on Monday, ahead of the 4 p.m. release of results from the April 7 vote.

There are 14 named plaintiffs but the case seeks certification as a class action for claims under the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some requested absentee ballots and did not receive them did not vote in person. Some returned absentee ballots by April 1 but don’t believe the ballots were received by April 7. Some said they did risk their health by voting in person after their requested absentee ballots did not arrive.

— Bruce Vielmetti

12:57 p.m.: Virus spikes in Green Bay with 30 new cases

Thirty more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in Brown County this weekend, the county’s most significant increase since cases began appearing here in late March.

The county is reporting a total of 75 cases now, in addition to seven from De Pere and five from the Oneida Nation. Also, five people from other counties are being treated at hospitals in Brown County.

Many of the new cases were diagnosed Sunday or Monday, said Claire Paprocki, public health strategist for the county.

Read the full story.

— Doug Schneider

12:50 p.m.: Milwaukee Election Commission will count absentee ballots without postmarks

The Milwaukee City Election Commission voted Monday to count at least 390 absentee ballots that are without a postmark, have an illegible postmark or have a postmark with no date. 

The U.S. Supreme Court said the state was to count only absentee ballots postmarked April 7 or sooner.

The Milwaukee action comes after election clerks around the state said they had received mailed ballots that were not postmarked, including nearly 700 in Madison alone. 

U.S. District Judge William Conley earlier ruled that absentee ballots could count as long as they were received by clerks by April 13 — six days after election day — regardless of when they were sent. Republicans appealed part of that decision and the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision sided with them late Monday and required that absentee ballots had to be in clerks’ hands by the next day or postmarked by then. 

Conley didn’t put a postmark requirement in place because he knew thousands of voters wouldn’t receive their absentee ballots until after election day. But the Supreme Court said it was essential to have postmarks for late-arriving ballots to make sure they weren’t cast after election day. 

— Daniel Bice

11:45 a.m.: UW system cuts college application fees 

The University of Wisconsin System, which has lost an estimated $168 million as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, announced Monday that it is cutting its application fee for all but the Madison campus and making other changes to make it easier for students to enroll.

“We know this is a challenging time for our high school seniors,” UW System President Ray Cross said in a news release announcing the changes. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that students who want to enroll in our universities this fall can enroll.”

Among the changes, the university system is:

  • Reducing the undergraduate application fee from $50 to $25 for all campuses except Madison, beginning for the summer term.
  • Creating a system to waive application fees for students who can show financial hardship because of COVID-19.
  • Accepting unofficial transcripts.
  • Holding students blameless for circumstances out of their control such as the cancellation of ACT or SAT testing dates, or a high school or college moving to a pass-fail grading system.
  • Beefing up its online services, offering among other things, virtual campus tours, one-on-one consultations and online office hours to help students complete their applications. More on that is available at its UW Help website.

— Annysa Johnson

11:10 a.m.: Democratic leaders expect more legal battles over April 7 election

Democratic Party leaders called for a mail-only vote in Wisconsin’s May 12 congressional special election and said they expected more legal fights over the April 7 election.

In a tele-conference with reporters. national Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez accused Wisconsin Republicans of pursuing “voter suppression on steroids” by refusing to delay the April election and by allowing in-person voting on April 7.

Republicans “tried to steal this election in Wisconsin and we’ll find out what happened,” Perez said of the election results that will be reported after 4 pm Monday.

State Democratic chair Ben Wikler said, “all legal options are on the table” for both the April 7 election and the upcoming May 12 election to fill the U.S. House seat in northern Wisconsin vacated by the resignation of Republican Sean Duffy.

He called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to convert that contest into a mail-only election and send absentee ballots to every voter in that Seventh Congressional District. That is a step that would require changes to state law.

Wikler said that beyond any litigation the Democratic Party may initiate over the April 7 results, he expected voters and at least some of the several thousand candidates on local ballots to go to court.

“It is hard to imagine a world where none of those candidates wind up looking for legal recourse, as well,” said Wikler.

— Craig Gilbert

11:00 a.m.: Website compiles lodging discounts for first responders and essential workers

A website has been launched that features Milwaukee-area hotels offering discounts to first responders and essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The website was launched by Visit Milwaukee.

Visit Milwaukee markets the area as a destination for business, convention and leisure travel. It’s financed with local hotel tax revenue.

“We are unbelievably grateful to the police, fire, EMS, health care workers, sanitation workers, municipal employees, and all the essential workers who are reporting to work every day to keep our community going,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, Visit Milwaukee president and chief executive officer.

“Our hope is that this website provides resources for them to find a safe place to sleep without the risk of bringing the virus home to their loved ones.

“A sincere thank you to our hotel community for meeting this need,” she said, in a statement.

Rates and hotel locations vary.

“We continue to urge everyone who can stay home to please stay home,” said Williams-Smith. 

“The more we observe strict social distancing, the sooner we can stop the spread of the virus and get back to business in Milwaukee,” she said.

Hotels are among the industries that have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, with some Milwaukee hotels closing temporarily.

— Tom Daykin

10:55 a.m.: IRIS in Kenosha County pivots to manufacturing face masks, hiring new workers

A Kenosha County manufacturer says it’s gearing up to produce 70 million disposable, 3-ply face masks a month beginning this fall.

IRIS USA says it will spend $10 million on machinery to add face mask production to its 250-employee plant in Pleasant Prairie and plans to hire an additional 60 people.

The company’s Japanese parent, IRIS Ohyama, has been producing masks in China for more than a decade and says it’s a major supplier to the Japanese government.

IRIS USA says its Wisconsin plant will continue to manufacture plastic storage boxes and pet products when production of masks begins in September. Meanwhile, IRIS Ohyama is shipping masks to the U.S. from its factory in China.

The company says its Wisconsin effort is part of a broader initiative to add mask production to factories in Japan, Korea and Europe, in anticipation of long-term global needs expected even after the current coronavirus crisis has ended.

— Rick Barrett

10:36 a.m.: Port Washington Fish Day canceled

Port Washington Fish Day, an annual celebration that brings hundreds of people to Port Washington’s harbor, is the latest summertime festival to be canceled due to coronavirus.

This year’s event was originally scheduled for July 18. In a statement, Port Fish Day Chairman Bruce Manderscheid said the event’s planning committee and board of directors weighed the possibility of postponing the event, but eventually decided it was safer to cancel.

“Fish Day cannot go on without the help of our civic organizations, sponsors, and guests who at this time are financially focused on the well-being of their families,” he said. “We are respecting the concerns that have been expressed by our guests and volunteers who are wary of joining together in a large crowd so soon after the Stay At Home mandates may be lifted.”

Manderscheid expects Port Fish Day to resume in 2021.

— Jeff Rumage

10:10 a.m.: Eight have died from virus in Kenosha and Racine counties

Eight people have died from the coronavirus in Racine and Kenosha counties, according to local health departments.

Kenosha County reported two deaths over the weekend, and Racine County reported one, bringing the countywide totals to four deaths each.

No additional information was immediately available about the people who died.

Juneau County also reported its first death from the virus Sunday — a person in their 90s, according to the Juneau County Health Department.

Statewide, at least 147 people have died from the virus, according to state and county health department data.

— Sophie Carson

9:15 a.m.: Milwaukee County up to 86 deaths because of coronavirus

A 63-year-old woman died Sunday in Milwaukee County from complications due to the coronavirus, the county’s 86th death.

The county also reported 35 additional people tested positive for the virus Monday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 1,746. Sunday’s case total was 1,711.

More than 1,300 of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee, according to county data.

On Sunday the county reported 20 new cases. The number of new cases reported Sunday and Monday were the smallest increases since March 22.

Statewide, 144 people have died from the coronavirus, according to state health department data.

— Sophie Carson

8:05 a.m.: Michelle Obama initiative aims to increase mail voting

A voter initiative led by Michelle Obama announced support Monday for making it easier for people to register to vote and cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

When We All Vote, a nonpartisan voting initiative, says Americans should have greater access to voting by mail, early in-person voting and online voter registration.

The announcement follows last week’s primary election in Wisconsin, where thousands of people waited hours in line — without protective gear and in defiance of orders to stay home — after the state Supreme Court overturned the governor’s order to postpone the vote as more than a dozen other states have done because of the pandemic. Thousands of other Wisconsin voters, unwilling to risk their health, stayed home.

Obama’s husband, Former President Barack Obama, tweeted about the Wisconsin election Friday.

“No one should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their right to stay healthy like the debacle in Wisconsin this week,” Obama tweeted, including a link to the New York Times article about the Wisconsin election.

Michelle Obama also shared an image on Instagram taken by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photography intern Patricia McKnight.

Read the full story.

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