Updates on the coronavirus and how it’s affecting life in Wisconsin from reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
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7 p.m.: 29 House of Correction staff on quarantine at home
Twenty-nine staff members at the Milwaukee County House of Correction are quarantined at home, Superintendent Michael Hafemann said Thursday.
Of those staffers, 10 are quarantined for various reasons, including out-of-town travel, and 19 are directly related to the coronavirus.
Seven have tested positive, nine are presumed positive by their health care providers and three are in “direct contact quarantine,” Hafemann said, meaning they recently had contact with someone who just tested positive.
He said 426 staff members were tested on Monday and Tuesday, and results for about 300 have come back. Other tests are being evaluated or the results are currently being reviewed.
Hafemann estimated they may have about 50 tests pending.
More than 600 inmates were tested over the weekend, and 50 tests are pending, he said. So far 105 inmates have tested positive, 104 of whom are male.
He also said that 104 inmates who tested positive are at the House of Correction and one is on an electronic monitoring program at his home.
Hafemann also took exception with a Journal Sentinel report Wednesday that a HOC inmate had died of COVID-19. That was based on information from the state Department of Health Services, but the DHS spokesman would not clarify or provide additional information Thursday.
An inmate who had been at the HOC briefly before being released to electronic monitoring and home detention on Feb. 18 died on March 15 at a hospital, Hafemann said, but from alcoholism-related complications.
Hafemann said the person was not tested for coronavirus while in HOC custody. No inmates or staff had any symptoms at that time, he said.
It was unclear if hospital officials tested him either before or after he died.
DHS spokeswoman Jennifer Miller said privacy concerns prevented her from saying if that man’s death was the one DHS was counting as occurring in a correctional facility.
– Alison Dirr and Bruce Vielmetti
6:50 p.m.: Federal courthouse in Milwaukee closed until June 1
Chief U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper on Thursday extended closure of the federal courthouse in Milwaukee and other restrictions on court operations there until June 1.
“There continues to exist an overriding interest in protecting the health and safety of the building tenants and the public which would be prejudiced by keeping the building open to the general public,” Pepper wrote in the order.
The courts and other federal agencies housed in the courthouse have continued work remotely, when possible, but things like naturalization ceremonies and jury trials have all been postponed.
Judges are still conducting some hearings by telephone, and other agencies in the courthouse, like federal prosecutors, defenders, the U.S. Marshal Service, probation, U.S. Bankruptcy Court and Sen. Ron Johnson’s office, continue to operate.
Anyone with questions or business to conduct should contact those agencies by phone.
– Bruce Vielmetti
3:15 p.m.: Steve Miller cancels tour, hometown show at Summerfest
Milwaukee-born Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Miller won’t be coming home to play Summerfest — or touring at all this summer.
Steve Miller Band announced Thursday it was canceling its summer tour with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bands were scheduled to play Summerfest’s BMO Harris Pavilion on June 26.
Last month, Summerfest officials announced the festival would be postponed to Sept. 3 to 5, 10 to 12 and 17 to 19, due to the pandemic. It’s the first time the festival, the largest in the United States, has been postponed in its 53-year history.
Lower bowl seats at the BMO Harris Pavilion for Miller required separate tickets, and the vast majority of them were already purchased. Refunds will be issued automatically to people who purchased tickets with a credit card.
Before the coronavirus crisis and Summerfest’s postponement, officials announced nine shows for the remodeled American Family Insurance Amphitheater and seven shows for the Pavilion.
Sam Hunt has rescheduled his show for Sept. 4. Aside from Hunt and Miller, Summerfest officials have not announced the status of the other shows. Confirmed headliners before the festival was postponed included Guns N’ Roses, Justin Bieber, Chris Stapleton and Halsey.
– Piet Levy
2:55 p.m.: Black Arts Fest MKE canceled
The festival calendar at Maier Festival Park is now clear through late August. Black Arts Fest MKE, which took place at the park every August since 2018, has been canceled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was slated for Aug. 1.
The news comes the same day that organizers for Bastille Days in Cathedral Square Park announced it would be postponed. Organizers behind Milwaukee Irish Fest, set to celebrate its 40th year Aug. 13-16, announced its cancellation Tuesday.
Currently, the first festival scheduled for Maier Festival Park in 2020 is Mexican Fiesta Aug. 23 to 25. A rescheduled Summerfest is set to begin Sept. 3.
Other annual events at the park, including PrideFest, German Fest and Festa Italiana, have either canceled or postponed.
– Piet Levy
2:35 p.m.: MPD chief threatens citations or arrests of protesters
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales indicated Thursday his department is prepared to issue citations or make arrests should members of the public assemble for political demonstrations.
Over the weekend, several hundred people gathered in Brookfield and a smaller group assembled in Madison to call on Gov. Tony Evers to rescind his extended safer-at-home order and reopen business in the state.
In Brookfield, protesters were seen standing shoulder to shoulder, defying the governor’s order, which stipulates that people remain 6 feet apart in public spaces.
If a similar demonstration came to Milwaukee, Morales said his officers would first speak with participants about keeping their distance.
“We’re going to start out with, again, messages,” Morales said during a virtual Newsmaker Luncheon hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club on Thursday. “We’re going to go through the steps. But if we continue and there’s no compliance, citations will be issued and, if it merits, arrests will be made.”
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing police to issue $500 fines to anyone purposely violating the safer-at-home order.
– Elliot Hughes
2:22 p.m.: Spike in cases continues as Wisconsin records 207 more
For a second straight day, Wisconsin saw confirmed cases of coronavirus increase by more than 200 as the state’s overall total surpassed 5,000.
The sudden spike comes after a fairly stable two-week period and is largely driven by a dramatic increase in cases in Brown County.
The county announced Thursday that its confirmed cases had shot up again and that more than half the cases were tied to outbreaks at three meat-processing facilities.
The state’s total may not have captured the full extent of the recent spread in Brown County, given the county reported 101 new cases Thursday (for a total of 511), while the state’s count for the county increased by just 53 (to 455). The state’s totals are frozen once each day and don’t always match counties’ more up-to-date county figures.
Total new cases statewide numbered 207 on Thursday, counting Wednesday’s record increase of 225, the two-day total of 432 was 50 higher than the previous two-day high, on April 3-4.
Overall deaths from COVID-19 totaled 257 by the state’s count, an increase of 11.
2:06 p.m.: Bastille Days postponed
The East Town Association has postponed this year’s Bastille Days street festival, along with its other events in the downtown neighborhood during the first half of summer, in light of social distancing concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to Bastille Days, which had been scheduled for July 9-12, East Town said the Jazz in the Park series and farmers markets in Cathedral Square Park wouldn’t be held during June and July.
In a statement on East Town’s website, the organization said it was “working on alternative dates and options” for Bastille Days, “pending any future developments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
– Chris Foran
1:25 p.m.: Kenosha County sheriff urges fellow sheriffs to enforce safer-at-home
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth on Thursday called out fellow sheriffs who have expressed skepticism about continued social distancing restrictions and indicated they might not enforce them.
“I am usually pretty quiet down here in my corner of the State, but I just can’t be at this time because you really… REALLY… need to think about any decision not to support the Governors Stay at Home Order,” Beth wrote.
He appeared to be responding to recent statements from other sheriffs saying the order seems too vague to enforce, and that they would await the outcome of a lawsuit by the Republican-controlled Legislature challenging Evers’ recent extension of his order.
Beth said that the political battles over whether and when to reopen states’ businesses and other activities have been mostly reported on the state and national levels.
“By any Sheriff publicly declaring you will not be enforcing the Governor’s Order, you have now brought that fight down to a county level, and every Sheriff is now the gatekeeper to your counties’ prosperity.
“Each one of us now wields the magic wand to keeping businesses from failing and families keeping a roof over their heads,” Beth said. “I don’t know about you, but I am far too busy to be carrying one more magic wand.”
His statement goes on to explain a sheriff’s defiance of the safer-at-home order doesn’t equate to a restarted economy, because county health officers can still order businesses to remain closed, and could “deputize citizens” to enforce their directives.
“In Kenosha, I work very closely with other county divisions and officials and always have. We have each other’s back and support each other with a united front. Maybe you don’t have this in your county.”
He also said Kenosha County’s corporation counsel advised him that if someone were to get sick or die, arguably because Beth chose not to enforce the order, he might not enjoy legal representation by the county in the event he was sued.
“I will stand with the oath I took on January 3, 2003, to uphold Federal, State, and local laws. This does not mean I agree or would not do things differently, but I will not violate the order.”
Beth is Kenosha County’s longest-serving sheriff.
– Bruce Vielmetti
12:29 p.m.: COVID-19 in Brown County continues to spike
GREEN BAY – Brown County now has over 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, continuing a rapid spread that began to show up in numbers last week.
Over half the cases, 267, stem from three meat-processing businesses in the county.
The county reported 511 cases Thursday, and six cases in the Oneida Nation. Twenty-two people are hospitalized, officials said. That compares with 410 cases reported in Brown County on Wednesday, as well as the six among Oneida members.
The new numbers came one day after authorities revealed that 205 cases in the county were linked to three meat-processing operations, including 147 tied to the JBS Packerland plant on Lime Kiln Road in Green Bay. On Wednesday there were also 39 cases linked to American Foods Group in Green Bay and 19 to Salm Partners in Denmark.
On Thursday, the county increased those numbers to 189 from JBS, 55 from American Foods and 23 from Salm.
Those included employees as well as family members of employees.
– Doug Schneider
10:52 a.m.: Amtrak suspends service between Milwaukee and Chicago
Amtrak has announced it will suspend service by its popular Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, and replace it with bus service starting Friday.
The rail service lists low demand amid stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the scaled back service, a bus will leave the Intermodal Station in downtown Milwaukee daily at 7:55 a.m. and arrive at Chicago’s Union Station at 9:54 a.m. A return bus will leave Chicago at 5 p.m. Amtrak will be enforcing social distancing on the buses, and encourages riders to wear masks, and the buses will be cleaned after each trip.
Train service is expected to resume May 26.
The public health emergency has caused Amtrak to suspend entirely services around the country, including the Acela, which runs between Boston and Washington, D.C., and other well-used lines in the eastern United States. Other routes, like the Hiawatha, have reduced or modified service.
Amtrak says it is waiving change fees for reservations made before May 31, 2020.
– Bruce Vielmetti
7:35 a.m.: Milwaukee County reports 5 more deaths
Milwaukee County reported 24 new cases of the coronavirus and five more deaths between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
The local caseload climbed to 2,383 cases, according to the county’s online dashboard, while deaths reached 143.
Twenty of the new cases come out of the city of Milwaukee, where the caseload reached 1,749 Thursday morning.
– Elliot Hughes
Wednesday, April 22
4:32 p.m.: County disputes state report that inmate at House of Correction died from coronavirus
An inmate at Milwaukee County’s House of Correction has died from COVID-19, according to state health officials.
As of Wednesday morning, the county’s online tracker showed that 103 inmates have tested positive and 10 have recovered from COVID-19 but that there were no deaths from the virus.
The fatality was revealed in statewide data about coronavirus infections and deaths in a variety of group housing contexts, like nursing homes, homeless shelters and correctional facilities.
There was a single death noted in a correctional facility. A spokesperson for the Department of Health Services confirmed the victim was an inmate at the HOC, in Franklin.
Raisa Koltun, who directs the county’s Emergency Operations Center, said the last House of Correction inmate to die was March 15 but that he had been living on home detention and died from complications of alcoholism, not the coronarvirus.
But she could not immediately say when the inmate had left the facility on home detention, or if he had been tested for COVID-19. County officials first took steps to reduce the number of inmates at the HOC and the county’s downtown jail around March 11.
The DHS official who indicated the death had been at the HOC could not immediately be reached to clarify if that was the person who died at home March 15.
Positive testing began to spike at the HOC last week, and over the weekend, the Wisconsin National Guard helped test every one of the more than 600 inmates there. Some of the results were expected today.
3:45 p.m.: Doctors now being ordered to test more people for virus
Testing for coronavirus is about to change radically in the state.
Primary care physicians are now being told to test everyone who contacts them because they’re sick, even those with mild symptoms, for coronavirus, said state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.
“What’s important to remember with this pandemic is it’s constantly changing,” Willems Van Dijk said during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Until now the state told physicians not to test for the coronavirus unless someone was seriously ill, was a health care worker or known to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. That was because of a shortage of test kits.
“We now have a very different situation,” said Willems Van Dijk.
State health officials are now trying to get the word out that physicians should test people for coronavirus as long as they have test kits and personal protection equipment to safely perform tests.
Many doctors have handled coronavirus symptom cases like the seasonal flu. If someone was a reasonably healthy younger person who doesn’t work in the health care industry, they’re most likely told to stay home, stay hydrated and take Tylenol, said Willems Van Dijk.
Which was the same approach for the coronavirus for many weeks especially because health officials did not want infectious people to come to clinics and possibly infect others. But now, Willems Van Dijk said, health officials are encouraging physicians to order tests so the spread of the coronavirus can be better tracked in Wisconsin.
“It’s a real mind shift for our physicians,” she said.
– Meg Jones
3:30 p.m.: National Guard could be used as jail guards in staff shortage
As more inmates and staff members at jails and prisons in Wisconsin test positive for coronavirus, the National Guard could be used to supplement staffing.
Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Paul Knapp said the Department of Corrections is in daily contact with the guard and if the need arises, soldiers and airmen could work as corrections officers. The Wisconsin National Guard has military police units with soldiers and airmen trained for guard duty and handling of prisoners.
“There’s a long-standing, decades-long mission to augment the Department of Corrections in case of a staffing crisis like would occur during a pandemic,” Knapp said Wednesday afternoon during a media briefing.
A Wisconsin National Guard mobile testing unit deployed to the House of Correction in Franklin last weekend as the number of infected inmates rose.
The National Guard has responded in a variety of other ways during the pandemic.
On Monday, two 20-person teams opened specimen collections sites at two community health centers in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin National Guard has 12-person teams serving as medical and administrative staff at two separate state-run voluntary self-isolation facilities in Milwaukee and Madison; another 30 soldiers and airmen are serving at a Milwaukee County-run self-isolation facility.
Six guardsmen are assisting mortuary affairs operations at the Dane County Coroner’s Office and 20 soldiers are working at a state warehouse to receive and repackage personal protective equipment for redistribution to communities.
– Meg Jones
3:15 p.m.: State Fair Park care facility will stay open after state reopens
As coronavirus cases start to plateau in Wisconsin and the state begins preparing to reopen in several weeks, officials intend to keep an alternate care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park open.
The facility in the large Exposition Center at State Fair Park in West Allis is expected to open later this week. But when the safer-at-home order is finally expected to be lifted after Memorial Day, it’s likely the State Fair Park site will remain open.
Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk pointed out that more people were killed in the second wave of the Spanish flu more than a century ago.
“One of the things with pandemics is they generally don’t come with one peak, they come with multiple peaks,” Willems Van Dijk said in a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.
A second alternate care facility — designed as an overflow if hospitals are swamped with patients — is in the planning stage at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Construction has not started at that location. The alternate care facilities are for patients who do not need ventilators and are not in intensive care units.
Once the State Fair Park alternate care facility comes on line “we want to keep it open as long as we can see where the pandemic is heading. We would hate to close it down and then see a need,” said Willems Van Dijk.
Alternate care facilities were planned in Milwaukee and Madison because of computer modeling showing the possibility of a shortage of hospital beds with the coronavirus pandemic. Willems Van Dijk did not know how many volunteer health care professionals have agreed to work at the alternate care facility but said it’s in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Wisconsin National Guard troops will also help staff the State Fair Park facility if patients come there.
– Meg Jones
3 p.m.: Five guardsmen who worked at polls report virus symptoms
Five Wisconsin National Guard troops who were among 2,400 soldiers and airmen working at election sites during the April 7 presidential primary have reported coronavirus-related symptoms.
Only one guardsman was tested for coronavirus and the other four were not tested by their primary care physicians, Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Paul Knapp said in a media briefing Wednesday afternoon. The one who was tested was negative for coronavirus.
Because of a severe shortage in poll workers, National Guard members dressed in civilian clothing worked at election sites in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Most were assigned to sites near their homes.
Knapp declined to reveal specifics of the cases so it’s unknown in which communities or counties the National Guard troops reporting coronavirus symptoms worked.
Also, Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk noted that there’s no way to prove the National Guard members as well as 19 people who either voted or were civilian poll workers and have tested positive contracted the virus at an election site.
“We have correlation, but we do not have causation,” Willems Van Dijk said.
– Meg Jones
2:26 p.m.: Wisconsin records largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases
Wisconsin saw its largest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases since the state began testing, largely due to a hotspot in Brown County.
Of 225 new positive tests announced Wednesday by the Department of Health Services, 88 came from Brown County, where nearly 150 cases have been tied to a Green Bay meatpacking plant.
Overall, the county’s confirmed cases have increased from 41 to 410 in just over two weeks.
The previous high for a single day was April 1, when 199 new cases were announced.
The state’s death toll due to COVID-19 increased by four, to 246.
The state’s hospitals had just over 350 COVID-19 patients admitted, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, down more than 50 from a week prior, and nearly 230 patients awaiting test results.
1:52 p.m.: COVID-19 victim to protesters: ‘Are you willing to sacrifice any life for this?’
After being diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Rev. Greg Lewis remembers the words his doctor told him in the hospital: “If you don’t do exactly what we’re going to say, you’re going to die.”
The doctor asked Lewis, president of Souls to the Polls and pastor at St. Gabriel Church of God in Christ, if he had his affairs in order and asked him if he wanted to be resuscitated if treatment was not working.
Lewis thought about that for a moment, then the doctor took back the question and said, “in your condition, we won’t be able to revive you.”
Last weekend, when Lewis saw coverage of a protest in Brookfield demanding the safer-at-home order be lifted, he became emotional.
“Four people of my friends died (from the virus) when I was in the hospital,” Lewis said. “And I don’t think that’s a thing that people should take lightly.”
Lewis, along with other clergy members and workers, spoke on Wednesday denouncing the protests that took place last weekend and those to be held Friday in Madison.
“Are you willing to sacrifice any life for this?” Lewis said, addressing those who were at the protest. “We shouldn’t sacrifice one life for this, including your own and your own family.”
12:32 p.m.: 147 cases tied to one Green Bay meat-processing plant
Brown County now has 410 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 147 cases tied to one Green Bay meat-processing plant alone.
The additional 93 cases reported Wednesday represents the largest single-day spike yet in the county, which first acknowledged clusters in meatpacking plants on Monday.
Among all of the county cases, JBS Packerland on Lime Kiln Road is linked to more than one-third of them.
11:20 a.m.: Eight Milwaukee County golf courses to open Friday
Milwaukee County will open eight of its public golf courses Friday, under the new exemption in Gov. Tony Evers’ extended safer-at-home order. The courses at the following parks will open: Brown Deer, Dretzka, Oakwood, Whitnall, Currie, Grant, Greenfield and Lincoln parks. The footgolf course at Lincoln Park will also be open for those who bring their own soccer balls.
Driving ranges, practice areas, pro shops and restaurants will remain closed. Tee time bookings and payments will be taken over the phone. Tee times will be required and will be spaced every 15 minutes. Golf carts will be prohibited and holes will have raised cups. Clubhouse bathrooms will be available, but on-course bathrooms will be closed. Golfers will be required to stay 6 feet away from other golfers and will not be permitted to congregate in parking lots. For more information, see mke.golf.
8:29 a.m.: SC Johnson converts manufacturing line to make sanitizer
SC Johnson announced Wednesday morning the company has “converted a U.S. manufacturing line to make hand sanitizer for health workers and first responders.” The company hopes to make 75,000 bottles a month.
– Ricardo Torres
7:41 a.m.: Milwaukee County reports 29 more cases, 3 more deaths
Milwaukee County reported 29 new cases of the coronavirus and three new deaths between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.
The local caseload climbed to 2,289 cases, according to the county’s online dashboard, while deaths reached 138.
Just under 1,700 cases are in the city of Milwaukee.
Tuesday, April 21
9:26 p.m.: Irish Fest the latest Milwaukee summer festival to cancel
On Tuesday night, Irish Fest organizers posted on social media that the 2020 event will be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The decision was made now to help mitigate the growing challenges of the significant planning and upfront logistics required to successfully execute the festival,” the post said.
“Based on the information we have been able to gleam (sic) up until this point, we feel it will be concerning for large group gatherings, such as our 100,000 plus attendees, to be able to come together safely in August. Your health and welfare are our number one priority, and we (want) to play our part in keeping everyone (safe).”
The event was scheduled for Aug. 13-16 at Henry Maier Festival Park. If a ticket was purchased in advance online, the festival will allow a transfer to the 2021 festival, a donation back to Irish Fest or an outright refund. Automatic refunds will be issued to those who purchased Failte Club VIP Experience tickets.
Irish Fest joins other summer ethnic festivals that have canceled, including Polish Fest and Festa Italiana. Additionally, PrideFest announced its postponement, and Summerfest itself is moved to September.
– Jim Owczarski
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