With the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus rising recently, the state marked two weeks Wednesday since the Wisconsin Supreme Court lifted the statewide stay-home order. But officials aren’t linking the two just yet.
As of Wednesday, 413 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Wisconsin. Fewer than 300 were hospitalized in early May.
And an additional 335 people are hospitalized while awaiting coronavirus test results, surpassing the previous high of 295, in early April.
“I think we would not feel confident saying that on the two-week anniversary, we are attributing increases to the lifting of Safer at Home, but we certainly will continue to track the data,” Andrea Palm, secretary of the state Department of Health Services, told reporters.
She urged people to maintain physical distancing to “keep the curve flat, to help continue to protect the people of this state, particularly those that are most vulnerable.”
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The state set new records for the largest single-day increases in coronavirus deaths, cases and tests Wednesday. Another 22 deaths were added to the state’s count, bringing it to 539. The previous single-day high was 19, on April 4 and April 28.
Newly confirmed cases in Wisconsin totaled 599, breaking the record of 528 set a week earlier. The state reported a record 10,330 new test results Wednesday, and the percentage of Wednesday’s newly reported tests that came back positive for the coronavirus was lower, at 5.8%.
“All 599 cases that were diagnosed today resulted from a person being in close contact with another person who had the infection,” said Ryan Westergaard, the chief medical officer at the Department of Health Services. “And that’s the only thing we can say with certainty.”
“We obviously are concerned about outbreaks and hot spots around the state,” Palm said. “We are concerned about the increase — the slight increase in hospitalizations — that we’re seeing in some parts of the state.”
Most of the COVID-19 patients in the state are in southeastern Wisconsin, which on Wednesday reported 290 people currently hospitalized with coronavirus.
Ben Weston, director of medical services in the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, noted an upward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations in Milwaukee County over the past two weeks, from 146 on May 14 to 205 on Tuesday.
The figure dropped to 180 on Wednesday, but it’s a concerning trend overall, he said — one that reminds us the coronavirus is spreading, even as restrictions are eased.
“It’s still here,” Weston said. “It’s just as much if not probably more here than it was back when we had stay-at-home orders. All that’s changed is the orders and the law that surrounds it.”
Clusters of new cases
A few clusters of new cases emerged around the state.
At the Waupun Correctional Institution, nearly 44% of inmates tested so far have been positive for coronavirus after testing began Tuesday, according to the Department of Corrections website. As of Wednesday, 32 inmates at the overcrowded prison have tested positive. Seven staff members at Waupun had informed the corrections department of positive test results obtained off duty, according to the website.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,467 tests had been completed throughout all of the state’s DOC facilities, with 65 positive. A program began May 8 with the goal to test all inmates and workers.
Three employees at an Abbotsford meat and sausage manufacturing plant have tested positive for COVID-19. Abbyland Foods Inc. is one of several plants in Wisconsin that have had outbreaks. One of the biggest occurred at JBS Packerland in Green Bay.
All 25 of the coronavirus cases in Forest County are linked to one nursing home in Laona. All Forest County cases were tied to The Bay at Nu-Roc, county health officials said. Results from 15 tests tied to The Bay were pending and one of the people had died related to the virus. Another person is hospitalized.
The facility is one of 186 statewide under investigation by the state Department of Health Services. At least 74 of those facilities are nursing homes, according to the state.
Continuing economic toll around Wisconsin
While restrictions ease across the state for businesses, the economic toll continues to hit Wisconsin companies.
Fond du Lac’s landmark Schreiner’s Restaurant is closing permanently. Paul Cunningham, owner of the popular restaurant off I-41 said it was the “only real option given the economics associated with the current pandemic crisis.”
Sheboygan-based sock-maker Wigwam Mills announced that it will lay off the “vast majority” of its workforce. As of January 2019, Wigwam employed 175 people and planned to expand its workforce by 25%. The company said it was unsure if demand would return to prepandemic levels.
“Unfortunately, it is not realistic for us to assume that manufacturing can resume with the same number of employees that have previously worked with us,” Wigwam said in the news release.
Step taken toward a mail-in November election
Meanwhile, Wisconsin election officials agreed Wednesday to send absentee ballot applications to most voters this fall, but the plan could face obstacles next month if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the wording of the mailing.
The members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission voted 6-0 to advance the plan a week after they failed to reach consensus on who should receive ballot applications.
Under the commission’s plan, the state will not send actual absentee ballots, but rather the forms voters can use to request them. If voters filled out those forms and provided a copy of a photo ID, they would receive an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The mailing would also include information about how to request an absentee ballot using the state’s online portal, myvote.wi.gov.
Mail voting surged to nearly 1 million in the April election for state Supreme Court as people tried to stay at home as much as possible during the coronavirus outbreak. Mail voting this fall is expected to surpass the record set in April.
The state has 3.4 million registered voters. About 528,000 of them have already requested absentee ballots and the state believes about 158,000 of them have moved since they last voted.
Mary Spicuzza, Alison Dirr, Devi Shastri, Patrick Marley, Sophie Carson and Gina Barton of the Journal Sentinel, Matt Piper of the USA Today Network-Wisconsin, Benita Mathew of the Wausau Daily Herald and Melissa Siegler of the Marshfield News-Herald contributed to this report.
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