Live coronavirus updates: Racine to hold schools referendum recount; Walker calls for ‘staggered’ reopening of state


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: Coronavirus updates for the week starting April 13

Daily Digest: What you need to know about coronavirus in Wisconsin

More Coverage: Coronavirus in the U.S. and around the world


9:15 p.m.: Racine to hold schools referendum recount after measure passed with five votes

Racine election officials will recount votes Saturday for the school district’s $1 billion referendum after the ballot item passed last week with just a five-vote margin.

The recount will take place at Festival Hall in Racine. The local health department set guidelines for the gathering: no more than 125 people in the hall at any time, no one with any symptoms of respiratory illness are allowed inside, and everyone must wear a face mask.

The recount was sparked after the Racine Unified School District received four petitions from voters concerned the vote totals were incorrect. The measure, to collect $1 billion beyond the district’s revenue limits over the next 30 years, passed 16,748 to 16,743.

One petitioner said he did not believe all absentee or in-person ballots were counted “due to extenuating circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Another said he believed ballots were changed to “falsely represent” the voter’s intended choice, and that poll workers persuaded certain voters to support the referendum. And another said he believed ballots that were improperly filled out or postmarked were counted when they should not have been.

“We are thankful to the community for their support of the referendum. We trust the process and are working to ensure a safe environment for all involved,” a district spokeswoman said in a statement.

— Sophie Carson

9 p.m.: Walmart will require employees to wear face masks

Citing an internal Walmart memo to employees obtained by Scripps National, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee reported the store will require employees to wear face coverings beginning Monday, April 20. The company will provide face coverings if employees do not wish to use one of their own. 

The mandate applies to all workers in all Walmart buildings, from stores to distribution centers to its corporate offices. It also applies to Sam’s Cub employees.

The store will also encourage customers to wear face coverings, but it will not require it unless a state does so. Exceptions can be made based on local laws and an individual’s health requirements.

“We have evolved our policy on face coverings from optional to mandatory as public health guidance has shifted,” Walmart’s president and CEO, John Furner, said in a statement provided to WISN-TV.

—  Jim Owczarski

8:45 p.m.: CDC to investigate Brown County coronavirus spike, state’s fastest

Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to arrive in Brown County this weekend to look into a recent explosion in COVID-19 cases in the Green Bay area.

The number of cases has increased more than fourfold in just 10 days.

The Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management will join the CDC in sending people to Brown County to help identify the source or sources of recent coronavirus cases, county officials said.

Other northeastern Wisconsin county health departments may also participate.

Brown County’s increase in confirmed cases is the most pronounced in the state since the spring election. The state Department of Health Services reported the county had seen 41 positive tests by April 7. By April 17, that number had more than quadrupled, to 180.

That’s a 340% increase. In that period, statewide totals increased by 57%.

Read the full story here.

— Doug Schneider and Matt Piper

8:30 p.m.: Walker calls for ‘staggered’ reopening of state

In an interview with WISN-TV in Milwaukee, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he did not think the online petitions that have been created to ask for a recall of Tony Evers would benefit the state but did say a “staggered” return to a reopening of the state is a better option than staying at home through My 26. 

“I’ve praised governors across the country of both political parties so this is not picking on one party or another,” Walker said in the interview. “I think whether you’re Democrat or Republican people know that you can do both; you can protect the health and safety of our fellow citizens and at the same time we start to restore the health of our state and our nation’s economy.”

Walker said there may not be a need to reopen the state immediately but there is no need to wait until the end of May.

“These are things where eventually even restaurants, beauty salons, barbershops, if they all abide by these guidelines can reasonably go back to work over time,” Walker said.

— Jim Owczarski

8 p.m.: UW-Milwaukee plans employee furloughs through June 2021

Facing a massive budget shortfall, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee announced Friday it will “most likely” implement unpaid furloughs for its employees.

Chancellor Mark Mone said in a letter Friday that under the school’s plan, all UW-Milwaukee employees will be impacted by furloughs running July 2020 to June 2021.

Furloughs are mandatory unpaid time off with employees retaining their benefits and positions. According to the current plan, employees on 12-month contracts must take eight unpaid days, and employees with 9-month contracts will take six.

“We will also be requiring a higher number of furlough days for higher-income, 12-month employees,” Mone said.

And as early as May 2, UWM may also furlough certain employees who cannot work remotely or who work in areas facing the largest financial losses. This would not include faculty, Mone said.

On Thursday a Board of Regents committee on Thursday authorized unpaid furloughs for employees. UWM is the first school to announce its plans. 

Also announced Friday were furloughs to all 538 UW System administrative employees, who must take one unpaid day of leave per month for the next 14 months to save $3 million, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The UW system faces projected losses of nearly $170 million for the spring semester partly from dining and housing revenue and on-campus parking refunded to students after campuses closed last month. The losses also include costs to move classes online and tickets for canceled athletic events.

— Sophie Carson

6:45 p.m.: City awards grants for fresh food access

To help Milwaukee neighborhoods create or increase information about, and access to, healthy food, the city will share $400,000 in grants with 24 programs as part of its Fresh Food Access Fund.

The programs are located in north, south and west sides of the city. All of the grant recipients must match the city grants, meaning at least $800,000 will be directed toward the capital and educational programs. 

“Milwaukee neighborhoods that lack healthy food options and information leave residents vulnerable. And, these same neighborhoods have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “City government is making an investment to improve access to nutritious food in order to address one part of this health issue.”

Twelve recipients will offer educational programs, including wellness and nutrition programs and workshops.

The other recipients will use the grant money to continue projects and add supplies, equipment or buildings. Examples cited included the expansion of the Muslim Community Health Center’s community garden and adding a Fresh and Healthy Grocery Store in St. Joseph Hospital.

“The current climate has shown how important it is to maintain healthy habits,” Ald. Khalif J. Rainey said. “I look forward to these dollars making an impact in the community by not only providing healthy food options, but also creating opportunities for employment and education around healthy lifestyles.”

— Jim Owczarski

5:15 p.m.: Milwaukee’s south side sees spike in cases

The south side of Milwaukee is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Friday.

She warned that the surge is occurring specifically in the 53215 ZIP code, where Latino residents make up about 65% of the population.

“That’s where we’re seeing most of the cases right now,” Kowalik said. “We started to see this surge honestly at the beginning of this week.”

Monday through Thursday there was a jump to about 160 cases in that ZIP code, Kowalik said.

“We want to make sure that outreach is happening, and things are being translated into Spanish,” Kowalik said. “And also understanding that there are various cultures within the Spanish-speaking population in Milwaukee. So we can’t treat it as a cookie cutter approach.”

Kowalik said that 53% of the cases in the city of Milwaukee are African American, 20% are white, 17% are Latino or Hispanic, and 21% are unknown.

The south side hot spot comes after hot spots have emerged in African American neighborhoods on the city’s north side.

She said 77% of the coronavirus deaths in the City of Milwaukee are African American. 

New funding will help boost outreach efforts on both the north and south sides of the city, Kowalik said. Additional testing efforts in those areas are also underway, she said.

— Mary Spicuzza

5 p.m.: Every inmate to be tested at House of Correction amid outbreak

Milwaukee County officials said Friday they plan test every inmate at the House of Correction this weekend for COVID-19 infection.

HOC Superintendent Michael Hafemann made the announcement during the county’s daily videoconference briefing about efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Twenty-seven inmates have already tested positive, he said. Most are being isolated and treated at the Franklin facility, and one is being treated at home, on electronic monitoring.  Another 17 inmates have shown symptoms. Of those, six have been tested, Hafemann said, and results are pending.

He said after the facility-wide testing, which while be done over the weekend with the help of the Wisconsin National Guard, all HOC staff will tested. The plan is to isolate anyone who tests positive.

It’s all part of the effort to stay ahead of any more rapid spread within the HOC, which currently houses about 623 inmates in dormitory-style buildings where several inmates bunk in the same room.

Hafemann also said the county has hired a private contractor, Solid Surface Care, to do additional daily sanitizing at the HOC for 29 days to supplement the stepped up cleaning and sanitizing the facility’s own staff has been doing.

— Bruce Vielmetti

3 p.m.: Racine County Sheriff says Evers’ order will have ‘dire lifetime consequences’

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling issued a statement Friday saying his department would not enforce Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order and said the “overreaching measures” would have dire consequences.

Evers on Thursday extended the safer-at-home order until May 26 in an effort to continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state. The decision was met with immediate opposition from Republican leadership in the state Legislature.

In the statement Schmaling said his department “will continue to concentrate our resources and efforts at keeping our roads safe and protecting our citizens from criminal activity” but will leave the investigating and enforcement of public health orders to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“The overreaching measures taken by State government will have dire lifetime consequences for businesses, homeowners, and families,” the statement reads.

“I took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of our citizens and I can not in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” Schmaling continued.

Schmaling said he believes Racine County businesses can individually make the “appropriate adjustments in the way they operate” to ensure the safety of workers and patrons. 

“I understand the seriousness of the current health situation and I urge all Racine County citizens to continue to be responsible and to follow the social distancing, mask and hygiene recommendations of the CDC and the Wisconsin DHS,” Schmaling said.

Read more here.

— Jim Owczarski

2:45 p.m.: State surpasses 200 coronavirus deaths and 4,000 cases

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Milwaukee County and across Wisconsin is at its lowest point in days, according to local and statewide data.

But according to the state’s official count Friday, confirmed cases topped 4,000 and virus-related deaths surpassed 200 deaths.

The state Department of Health Services’ online dashboard showed 170 new positive tests, the largest jump in more than a week.

Cases now total 4,045 and deaths climbed to 205, while overall hospitalizations in the state since the start of the pandemic totaled 1,153.

But as of Friday morning, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported that 360 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, down more than 80 from a week prior. Inpatients awaiting testing were 200, or 75 fewer than the previous Friday.

In Milwaukee County, 201 people were hospitalized from the virus, down 66 from its peak Sunday, according to an online dashboard maintained by the county.

The state reported 120 people in Milwaukee County had died of the virus, while the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 111 deaths. Health officials said earlier this week the discrepancy has likely been caused by an error in how death certificates were filed with the state.

Of those who have died, 62 are men and 49 are women, according to the county. All but 14 are over 60 years old.

Milwaukee County also reported 2,055 confirmed cases Friday, up about 50 from Thursday. More than 1,500 of those cases are within the city of Milwaukee.

Among the newly reported deaths Friday: one in Dane County, bringing the total to 17, and  two in Racine County, bringing the total to eight.

— Sophie Carson

2:03 p.m.: Discovery World will gift memberships to essential workers

For every new, renewed or gift membership at Discovery World, the popular STEM museum on Milwaukee’s lakeshore will match with a free membership to an essential worker, donating to the employers of essential service providers.

This includes memberships purchased on March 14th — the day Discovery World temporarily closed the doors — through the day that they reopen.

— Kathy Flanigan

1:21 p.m.: Wisconsin lawyer files lawsuit against Zoom for security breach

A Wisconsin lawyer who says he conducted sensitive business on Zoom has filed a class action lawsuit against the suddenly-popular videoconferencing company, claiming its security breaches left confidential and medical information exposed to hackers.

Timothy Gens, of Lake Geneva, practices intellectual property law, and said he’s familiar with the technology behind Zoom and believes the company was not merely negligent in setting up the platform’s security, but instead consciously chose the levels it did, probably to save money and make it easier for users.

His lawsuit says Zoom’s security failing exposed confidential medical information that was part of patent work on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and allowed Facebook and LinkedIn to pull grab data about unknowing Zoom users, a claim raised in other suits and which Zoom says it has rectified.

Since much of the nation began staying at home to help slow the spread the coronavirus, Zoom has seen its users explode from ten million to more than 200 million in three months.  

— Bruce Vielmetti

12:58 p.m.: Eighteen MPD employees have been infected, another 43 in quarantine

Eighteen employees with the Milwaukee Police Department have been infected with the coronavirus while another 43 are in quarantine.

That’s according to Assistant Chief Regina Howard, who made the remarks as she pushed for additional administrative staffing during a Fire and Police Commission meeting done by phone Thursday.

Howard did not specify how many of those employees are civilian and how many are sworn officers, but she said the virus has put a strain on patrols with officers having to cover for absences in administrative positions.

“We have sworn officers who are doing some administrative duties, but we are losing officers due to” COVID-19, Howard said. “We would like to put the police officers back out on the street.”

Read the full story.

— Elliot Hughes

12:48 p.m.: Staff at Wisconsin Center furloughed

The state-created agency that operates downtown Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center convention facility is furloughing 34 full-time staff, approximately half of its full-time workforce, effective immediately.

The Wisconsin Center District announced those layoffs on Friday. It said recalls will be made as business warrants based on job functions throughout late spring and summer.

The district, which owns and operates the Wisconsin Center, UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, and Miller High Life Theatre had over 70 events postpone, reschedule, or cancel from March through June of this year.

In addition, the district has lost revenue from city and county hotel taxes, county food and beverage taxes, and a ticket surcharge from events at Fiserv Forum, which the district leases to the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Layoffs are always the last course of action and this decision was not made lightly,” said Marty Brooks, district president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

“Efforts to mitigate expenses in other ways simply weren’t enough to counteract the deep and sudden loss of revenue due to cancellation and postponement of events because of COVID-19.

“As dire as the next few months may be, I do feel confident that we will come back even stronger,” said Brooks. “The WCD has a full schedule of events from August through the end of the year.”

— Tom Daykin

11:33 a.m.: Packers launch contest for students to encourage exercise

The Green Bay Packers are inviting students to take part from home in the #StayHomeStayStrong Sweepstakes to encourage exercise and regular activity.

To enter, fans and parents of fans are asked to tweet photos or videos of themselves, their kids or another family member staying active while staying at home using the hashtag #StayHomeStayStrong and tagging @packers for a chance to win Packers prizes.

Parents are encouraged to send photos and videos of their kids enjoying exercise from home; fans under 18 years old must have a parent or guardian post photos or videos on their behalf.

One winner will receive an autographed Kenny Clark item and three runners-up will receive a Packers backpack with assorted Packers school supplies inside.

The contest runs until 10 a.m. April 24. Complete rules available at

— Alec Johnson

11:14 a.m.: Outpost Natural Foods asks for ‘extended first responder’ status

Outpost Natural Foods and the local union that represents grocery store workers asked Gov. Tony Evers for the Milwaukee-area chain’s employees to received “extended first responder” status in a letter Friday. 

The status would give Outpost’s employees, who are essential workers during the pandemic, high-priority for being tested for the virus and access to safety supplies. The letter from Outpost also asks that its workers be extended emergency childcare benefits, free healthcare coverage for coronavirus treatment, paid leave for care of a family member, testing, quarantine, isolation, medicine and treatment from COVID-19.  

“Outpost is doing its part, but as we all know it’s not enough, and yet our employees continue to put themselves on the frontline of this Pandemic every day, serving hundreds of patrons entering our stores,” Outpost General Manager Pam Mehnert wrote in a letter to Evers. “They are scared to come to work and deserve to be protected beyond what we are able to provide them.”

Large grocery chains like Kroeger and Albertsons have already made similar requests. Outpost has four stores in the Milwaukee area. 

— Sarah Hauer

8:37 a.m.: Big jump in positive tests among House of Correction population

More than two dozen inmates at the House of Correction in Franklin have tested positive for COVID-19, and county officials are expected to address details about the situation at a briefing Friday afternoon.

A county spokesman confirmed late Thursday that 27 inmates had tested positive, along with four staff members.  All but one were being quarantined or treated at the facility, while one is on home detention. All the infected staff are quarantining at home.

Last week, HOC Superintendent Michael Hafemann made the first announcement about the disease’s presence at the facility. At that time, there were seven inmates infected, and two were hospitalized.

One of the hospitalized inmates was Jake White. He was charged in February with armed robbery and was being held in lieu of $2,500 bail. During court hearings, it was converted to a personal recognizance bond so he leave the HOC for treatment, and was to revert to cash bail if and when he was released from the hospital.

But through a communication error, White, 66, was allowed to just leave an unnamed hospital in recent days. He was found at home and his now in the Milwaukee County Jail, with a hold order, and a reduced bail of $1,500.

The jump in infections at the HOC comes despite efforts early in the crisis to reduce the population from around 1,000 to nearer to the low 700s, and the adoption of stepped-up sanitizing within the facility.

The HOC typically houses about 1,000 inmates serving sentences under a year, or terms under a year as a condition of a probation sentence on a felony. Many HOC inmates also typically had work release privileges, but in an effort to reduce the population in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, many have been released early.

Some pretrial detainees, like White, were moved from the jail to the HOC at the start of the crisis to reduce the jail population from an average of more than 800 to 650 or less, and allow for remaining inmates to be housed one-to-a-cell.  

As of Thursday, no inmates at the jail in downtown Milwaukee have tested positive for COVID-19.

— Bruce Vielmetti

7:35 a.m.: Seven more deaths reported in Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County on Friday morning reported seven more deaths and 18 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday afternoon.

The county has now surpassed more than 2,000 cases and 100 deaths from the coronavirus, according to its online dashboard. More than 1,500 of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee.

The county lists 110 deaths from the virus while the state Department of Health Services continues to list another number, 114. Health officials said earlier this week the discrepancy has likely been caused by an error in how death certificates were filed with the state.

— Elliot Hughes

7:21 a.m.: Kohl’s enters into credit agreement to stay financially fit

Kohl’s Corp. is trying to attain financial flexibility by entering into a $1.5 billion credit agreement and refinancing about $1 billion in debt as the coronavirus pandemic keeps its stores shuttered. 

Kohl’s has entered into a $1.5 billion asset based revolving credit facility with Wells Fargo Bank, according to Security and Exchange documents.  

The Menomonee Falls-based retailer has suspended its regular quarterly cash dividend beginning in the second quarter of fiscal 2020, according to the documents. The company plans to resume paying a dividend when the economic environment stabilizes from the pandemic. 

Kohl’s said it would close all of its more than 1,100 retail stores in 49 states March 19. The majority of Kohl’s store associates and distribution center associates — about 85,000 employees — are furloughed. Those employees will remain furloughed until stores reopen. Health benefits will continue. 

Read the full story.

— Sarah Hauer

7:09 a.m.: Bon Iver releases new song for healthcare workers

Justin Vernon is stuck at home like practically everyone else, but that isn’t stopping the Eau Claire native and his band Bon Iver from making new music, for the greater good.

On Friday, Bon Iver released a new song, “PDLIF,” vowing to donate all of the track’s proceeds to the nonprofit Direct Relief, which is supplying protective gear and medications to healthcare workers helping people fighting COVID-19. 

“PDLIF” stands for “Please Don’t Live in Fear.” 

The new song isn’t the only way Bon Iver is trying to help during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Starting March 26, the band has been donating 10 percent of merchandise sales to the Feed My People food bank in Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley Artist Relief Fund. Ambient Inks, an Eau Claire-based print shop, partnered with the band on the campaign, donating all of their webstore proceeds to the local charities.

— Piet Levy


4:15 p.m. Regents authorize furloughs at UW campuses

Facing a dire shortfall because of the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered campuses, a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents committee on Thursday authorized unpaid furloughs for employees.

A total of 39,000 people work at Wisconsin’s 13 universities and branch campuses. Furloughs are mandatory unpaid time off with employees retaining their benefits and positions.

The UW system faces projected losses of nearly $170 million for the spring semester partly from dining and housing revenue and on-campus parking refunded to students after campuses closed last month. The losses also include costs to move classes online and tickets for canceled athletic events.

The measure approved Thursday is for furloughs at all UW campuses except Madison. System President Ray Cross said a furlough plan for UW-Madison employees will come at a later time.

It’s unclear when furloughs will start or how long they will last. Chancellors will have the authority to schedule furloughs at their campuses. UW-Madison Rebecca Blank was authorized by the regents committee to develop a furlough plan for her campus.

— Meg Jones


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