MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers ordered a statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, and closed all bars and restaurants except for delivery and pickup orders, more unprecedented disruptions to daily life imposed in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Evers also extended the closure of all public and private K-12 schools indefinitely and called on the Legislature to waive a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment compensation insurance. Evers said he would be talking with legislative leaders on Wednesday about an aid package and when they could take it up.
“We might be asking for more in the coming weeks,” Evers said of the restrictions. “We appreciate what everyone is doing across the state of Wisconsin. This is an evolving process.”
He also reiterated that he has no intention of delaying the state’s April 7 presidential primary and general election. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald also said a delay wasn’t being discussed.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission called an emergency meeting for Wednesday to discuss modifying election dates, deadlines and procedures. Actually changing the election date would likely require legislative action.
The number of people in Wisconsin who tested positive for COVID-19 jumped from 47 to 72 in one day. There was community spread of the virus in Milwaukee, Dane and Kenosha counties, said Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. That means people were testing positive even though they hadn’t traveled to areas with a high concentration of the virus or had knowingly been in contact with someone who has it.
Health officials did not have details of the ages of those infected or how many were hospitalized. They also did not have exact numbers on how many hospital ICU beds were available or ventilators for patients who would need them. Hospitals were following federal guidance and canceling elective surgeries as they prepared for an influx of patients suffering from COVID-19.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
The state health lab is prioritizing who is tested because of a nationwide shortage of the materials needed to complete the tests, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer for communicable diseases. He said there were enough supplies for the immediate future. He didn’t have an estimate on when it would run out.
“We know that these are not unlimited, so we do need to prioritize the testing equipment we have,” Westergaard said.
There were some exceptions to the new 10-person limits, including airports, hotels, child care facilities, hospitals, job centers, food pantries and governmental bodies.
Fitzgerald said the Legislature would consider ways to mitigate losses to businesses, employees and everyone else affected by the virus.
Evers’ administration and Republicans who control the Legislature have been at odds on issues large and small since Evers took office last year. But the coronavirus, and the need for the state to react, appears to be bringing them together for now.
Before the outbreak, the state had a projected $620 million budget surplus by the middle of next year. Fitzgerald said he didn’t know how much of that would not materialize given the economic downturn or would be available for any state stimulus package. He said he would be wary of committing too much at this point.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development said Evers will issue an executive order on Wednesday that would waive work search requirements and modify requirements for those affected by COVID-19 who want to receive unemployment insurance benefits.