Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency Thursday as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin grew to eight this week.
"The risk to the majority of Wisconsinites remains low. That said, we can all do our part to help prevent the spread of the illness to others," said Evers, who made the announcement at the State Emergency Operations Center while flanked by public health and military officials. "I encourage Wisconsin residents to be prepared," he stressed.
A statement from the governor's office said he had signed an executive order directing the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to " take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent and respond to incidences of COVID-19," the illness caused by the new coronavirus that has been declared a pandemic by world health officials.
DHS Secretary Andrea Palm recommended canceling any events of more than 250 people to help contain the spread of the virus along with suggested travel restrictions.
"We understand that these significant steps are going to disrupt people’s lives. But we are making these recommendations to protect the lives of the most vulnerable members of our families, our communities and our state," said Palm, noting that just a few cases in one community can quickly turn into more if steps aren't taken to prevent that.
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State health officials have asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for supplies to do more testing on people exposed to COVID-19. Those being tested will include 37 Wisconsin residents who are passengers on a cruise ship off the coast of California. They will be brought home by Wisconsin National Guard soldiers and airman, and undergo self quarantine once they've returned.
The emergency order frees up state money to go to local health departments, gives DHS more abilities to buy, store and distribute medications and allows for the use of the Wisconsin National Guard, according to the governor's office.
"We have been working aggressively to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this declaration allows us to get the resources we need to continue to be proactive when it comes to protecting Wisconsinites," Evers said in the statement. "It is the latest step in the work our state agencies have been doing around the clock with our health care partners to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic."
Seven new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Wisconsin this week in Dane, Fond Du Lac, Pierce and Waukesha counties.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin as of Thursday afternoon.