Wisconsin suffers record number of 27 coronavirus deaths and more hospitalizations than ever before as spike continues

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard takes a test sample at a COVID-19 testing site located at the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) building at 2701 S. Chase Ave. in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. As the state's outbreak balloons to one of the nation's worst, the surge of cases and hospitalizations in Northeast Wisconsin is unlike anything the region has experienced since the pandemic began. - Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Twenty-seven people infected with COVID-19 were reported dead on Wednesday — the most recorded in a single day in Wisconsin since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state six months ago. 

The grim milestone came as the state also reported another record number of hospitalizations and 2,300 more people infected with the virus. 

Much of Wisconsin is now considered a “red zone” for COVID-19 infections, according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report on the state’s situation.

But that designation by his own task force isn’t stopping President Donald Trump from holding rallies in two of Wisconsin’s hardest hit cities this weekend, concerning public health officials about what effect the gatherings of thousands will have on Green Bay and La Crosse. 

Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, a Democrat who supports former Vice President Joe Biden, said he hopes Trump will enforce strict rules on safety precautions to prevent even further spread of the virus in an area where at least one hospital is nearly at capacity.

“Based on some of his other recent activities, that might not be the case and that’s unfortunate,” Genrich said. Genrich did not say whether he asked the campaign to cancel the rally. 

One person who attended a Trump rally in Oshkosh on Aug. 17 later tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Department of Health Services, but the person reported other possible exposures, too, so health officials can’t say the event caused that case.

No confirmed cases have been tied to the president’s Sept. 18 rally in Mosinee, a department spokeswoman said. 

Other metro areas the White House report categorized in the red zone are Appleton, Oshkosh-Neenah, Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, Wausau-Weston, Manitowoc, Shawano, Watertown-Fort Atkinson, Menomonie and Marinette. 

The White House task force recommended that officials in Wisconsin should, to “the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline, including through supporting local authorities to pass and enforce mitigation measures.”

The Saturday rallies will be held largely outdoors in airport hangars, but Trump’s recent airport rallies have featured thousands of people standing close together, few of them in masks.

State health officials reported another 2,319 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, while 9,473 people tested negative.

The number of hospitalizations and deaths linked to the coronavirus pandemic had previously remained relatively flat, even as the number of cases increased. But more recently, hospitalizations and deaths have also been spiking.

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Wednesday was only the second time since the pandemic began that the state reported more than 20 coronavirus deaths in a single day. The previous record was set May 27, when 22 people were reported to have died after contracting COVID-19. The state’s total death toll is 1,327.

News of nearly 100 more hospitalizations — with 91 more people hospitalized since Tuesday — came as Wisconsin hospitals were already warning that they were filling up quickly.

As of Wednesday, there were 683 people hospitalized with coronavirus, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Citing that growth in cases across Wisconsin and the recent death of a Green Bay-area teacher, teachers’ unions in the state’s largest urban school districts called on Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm on Wednesday to order all schools to move to virtual instruction until community spread of the virus is contained.

The unions, representing teachers in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay, have been urging Gov. Tony Evers and Palm since July to prohibit in-person instruction for all schools — public, private and universities — in the midst of the pandemic, arguing it is unsafe.

They reiterated their demands Wednesday, specifically calling out Palm who they note has the authority to close schools for health and safety reasons.

Evers suggested Tuesday he is not considering another closure order for schools. On Wednesday he urged mask wearing and fewer outings. 

“COVID-19 is not slowing down. We have to get this virus under control, and we cannot do that if folks continue to go about their lives as usual,” Evers said in a statement. “We need Wisconsinites to wear a mask if they have to go out, but right now, the bottom line is that we need folks to stay home.”

Annysa Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Haley BeMiller of the Green Bay Press-Gazette contributed to this report.

Contact Mary Spicuzza at (414) 224-2324 or mary.spicuzza@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MSpicuzzaMJS.