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UPDATE: Evers to extend mask mandate as COVID strains hospitals

Associated Press

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FILE - This image taken from video by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Madison, Wis. (Wisconsin Department of Health Services via the AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that he will extend an order requiring masks to be worn inside public places amid a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases that is putting increasing pressure on the state’s hospitals.

Evers said he will extend his statewide mask mandate and reissue an order extending the state’s public health emergency before the end of this week. Both orders would remain in effect into January.

Republicans have fought Evers nearly every step of the way over his virus response, including suing over his “safer at home” order last spring and an initial statewide mask mandate. On Wednesday, Evers called on Republicans to stop pursuing the legal challenge and to publicly support his efforts, saying the seven-day average of positive new cases is now more than triple what it was two months ago.

“It’s time folks. We do not get any do-overs here,” Evers said. “Enough games. We need you to join the cause and we need you to start today.”

Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said controlling the spread of COVID-19 is necessary, as some hospital staffers are missing work because they are sick or in quarantine. She said one-third of Wisconsin hospitals are reporting a current critical staffing shortage and 41% expect a critical staffing shortage within a week.

Every hospital in two regions of the state has activated its surge plan, and although some hospitals have beds set aside, those beds are unused because there is no available staff to care for patients, she said. In addition, a children’s hospital is caring for adult patients and intensive care units are filling up.

“A strained hospital system puts everyone at risk, whether or not you have COVID-19,” she said.

She said hospitals have reported that nine ICUs were at 100% capacity over the past week; there are zero ICU beds available in one part of the state and only nine available in another region.

Wisconsin added 7,989 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 331,837 since the pandemic started. Palm said the seven-day average for new cases is 6,563 — up from 1,575 two months ago. An additional 52 deaths were reported Wednesday. bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 2,793.

“As scary as this picture is, it is going to keep getting worse before it gets better, and it’s only going to get better if we take action to make it better,” Palm said. “Please, stay home. Do not gather for holiday celebrations — it is not worth the risk.” She urged people to wear masks and socially distance if they must make essential trips.

Evers’ announcement comes a day after the state reported a daily record 92 deaths from the coronavirus. Evers also has released a proposal to that would prohibit evictions and foreclosures through 2021, continue the suspension of a one-week waiting period before people can collect unemployment benefits and allow workers, including in healthcare, to claim worker’s compensation benefits related to COVID-19 if they contract the illness at work.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has outlined Republican priorities but did not release any specific bills. Vos said Tuesday that he was open to coming into session next month to vote on virus-related legislation, but he didn’t release specifics.

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