Live: What To Know March 20 About COVID-19 In Wisconsin

Number Of Total Cases Of COVID-19 In State Is Rising

Nurse completes taking a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 testing station f
Laurie Kuypers, a registered nurse, reaches into a car to take a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-through COVID-19 coronavirus testing station for University of Washington Medicine patients Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

The state Department of Health Services announced Friday 206 positive cases of COVID-19 statewide, as well as 3,455 negative tests. However, the number continues to grow as counties announce positive cases.

As of Friday morning three people have died from the new coronavirus in Wisconsin. The first death was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County. The second was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County. The third was a man in his 60s from Milwaukee County.

In the last several days stores have shut their doors, communities have come together to support one another, and the Evers administration has taken several steps to attempt to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

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As the response to the virus evolves, Wisconsin Public Radio will be keeping track of up-to-date happenings here, and in our broadcast and online coverage. If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 — either about the virus, prevention or preparation — ask us and we’ll do our best to answer.

For explanations for common questions and additional information about COVID resources, read WisContext’s story listing 10 things to know about the pandemic and public health in the state.

For a compilation of all WPR’s coverage, visit WPR’s Coronavirus In Wisconsin section.

Here are the latest updates on the new coronavirus in Wisconsin:

6:25 PM: UW Health Asks To Hold Off Creating, Donating Hand-Sewn Masks

UW Health officials said that they were asking members of the public to hold off on making or dropping off unsolicited items, including hand-sewn cloth masks, according to a news release issued on Friday evening.

They asked people not to drop off the handmade masks or other protective equipment.

“Please wait to hear from us before sewing any masks. We have very specific guidelines that you will need to follow for us to accept the masks,” officials said in the news release.

The news release noted that the public response stems from “a message circulating from our Volunteer Services regarding the sewing of masks.”

4:57 PM: Be Careful What You’re Flushing, Eh?

City sewer districts, utilities and government-run sanitary districts are warning people not to flush anything but toilet paper and human waste.

City officials say they’re reminding residents that wipes and paper towels are not flushable. The plea comes as some people have found it difficult to buy toilet paper, and more people are using wipes to disinfect their homes to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The cities of Ashland, Madison and Janesville have sent out reminders about what’s appropriate to flush, as well as the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth.

The city of Madison has a list online.

4:36 PM: State Assures Wisconsinites There’s An Adequate Fuel Supply

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (WPMCA) are assuring residents that the state has a stable fuel supply.

“WPMCA members are committed to serving Wisconsin consumers throughout this emergency. Our members work to maintain clean facilities and monitor fuel quantities on a frequent basis,” said Matthew Hauser, president and CEO of WPMCA, in a news release.

DATCP Interim Secretary Randy Romanski said the state will maintain fairness and an adequate supply of fuel.

4:34 PM: Sub-Zero Group To Lay Off Nearly 1K Workers

Sub-Zero Group, Inc. notified the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development it’s laying off just under 1,000 workers.

The company plans to end production at all Sub-Zero’s facilities in Fitchburg until at least Monday, April 13.

“These 2020 business circumstances were not foreseeable, but we must react in a way that is designed to balance our duty to protect the health of our workforce as much as possible, minimize the spread of COVID-19 across our communities, and respond to the reality that demand for production has gone down and is forecast to remain down,” the company said in its notice to the state.

Operations will cease beginning with the third shift Sunday.

4:16 PM: DPI Moves Ahead With Testing Waiver

The state Department of Public Instruction said it will request a wavier for student assessments after the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday students can bypass testing for the 2019-20 school year.

“We were pleased to hear the announcement made this morning by the U.S. Department of Education, and expect to take advantage of this waiver flexibility,” said DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher. “The DPI plans on submitting a request to the DOE regarding student assessments, annual accountability determinations, identifications of schools, and report cards required under federal law.”

The U.S. Department of Education will grant waivers to any state upon request if it’s unable to conduct assessments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

4:09 PM: Walworth County Confirms Community Spread Of Coronavirus

The Walworth County Division of Public Health said it’s seeing community spread of the new coronavirus after identifying a third confirmed case.

Two of the county’s three cases had no known contact with people who have tested positive and the individuals had not recently traveled to areas where the disease is spreading.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has said people should assume coronavirus is in their communities.

3:51 PM: UW-Eau Claire Study Abroad Student Tests Positive For Coronavirus

A UW-Eau Claire study abroad student has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The student contracted the virus while studying abroad and did not return to campus, according to a university news release. The student is isolated at home with family and doing well, according to UW-Eau Claire’s Tim Boehnen, ­­­director of risk management and safety.

Other students who were in contact with the individual are also self-quarantining with their families.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread across Wisconsin and more people are tested, we realize there is a chance other Blugolds may be affected by this virus,” wrote Chancellor Jim Schmidt to students, faculty and staff. “Please know that we are here to support everyone in our community, our students, faculty, staff and alumni. We will get through this together.”

3:42 PM: Evers Administration Seeking Supplies For Health Care Workers

The Evers administration is working to improve health care workers’ access to personal protective equipment from the national stockpile.

Gov. Tony Evers said in a news release that includes asking the federal government to make sure adequate resources are available when it comes to face masks, gloves and other equipment.

State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Friday the state has 620 ventilators and is working on obtaining more supplies. The state is working with Wisconsin Emergency Management, the National Guard and other partners in the public and private sector to obtain needed resources.

3:27 PM: Unemployment Claims Continue To Rise In Wisconsin

Initial unemployment claims continue to skyrocket as workers and businesses adjust to social distancing.

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development reported 16,252 Wisconsin workers filed for unemployment Thursday. That means 45,734 have filed for unemployment in the first five days of this week alone.

Unemployment claims surged Wednesday, the day after the state ordered a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people and closed restaurants and bars to everything but takeout and delivery service.

3:15 PM: Gov. Tony Evers Orders Updates To Mass Gatherings

Gov. Tony Evers ordered the state Department of Health Services to issue updates on its previous orders banning mass gatherings of 10 or more people.

The update keeps prior provisions in place. Changes will treat bars and restaurants the same, and bars will be allowed to offer carryout sales of alcohol and food if allowed by local and state regulations. It also clarifies that media and news organizations may remain open to provide vital information.

It also adds laundromats, banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to the list of places that can stay open. Any parts of the food delivery system and transportation system can continue operating.

Polling and absentee voting locations may also remain open. Other facilities like hair salons, day spas and tattoo parlors must close by 5 p.m. Friday.

3:06 PM: Supermarket Chain Hy-Vee Announces Panel Installations At Checkout

Supermarket chain Hy-Vee, Inc. announced Friday customers will no longer be allowed to bring in reusable bags and it will install temporary window panels at checkouts.

The changes are designed to add additional layers of protection for employees and customers.

“These panels are being installed at the checkout, as this is the point in the store visit where customers and employees are in the closest contact,” said the company in a release. “In the aisles or at our service counters, customers and employees have more flexibility in placing distance between themselves but the setup of the checkout limits that ability.”

The company, which has 265 retail stores across eight Midwestern states, said the panels will be installed at all stores in the next several days. Hy-Vee has stores in Madison and Fitchburg.

2:55 PM: Evers Administration Assures Residents Their Money Is Safe

Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) want state residents to know FDIC-insured banks are the safest place to keep their money, as well as insured credit unions.

The Evers administration made the remarks given recent market downturns, asking people to be viligant of scams related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m confident that our financial institutions will be able to deliver necessary financial services to Wisconsinites throughout this pandemic,” said Gov. Evers in a news release

Evers said the Federal Reserve has taken multiple actions to boost the economy and ensure liquidity of the U.S. dollar. Some financial institutions are adjusting hours or services to prevent further spread of the virus, but many services remain available including online, drive-through and ATM services.

2:27 PM: Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Asks Insurers For Flexibility

Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable is asking insurance providers to be flexible with state residents experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsinites,” Afable said in a news release. “Now is the time for all of us to come together in common purpose and identify ways we can help those who are struggling.”

Afable’s office issued a bulletin Friday asking insurers to consider steps like deferring premium payments. The office is also providing guidance on how providers can meet regulatory requirements during any disruptions.

2:16 PM: Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Provides Guide To Affected Businesses

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is making a guide available on its website to small businesses for navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

The guide includes information to help businesses, chamber offices, community organizations and visitor bureaus remain resilient.

“Small businesses are a crucial part of the fabric of our communities,” said Gov. Tony Evers in a news release. “We know they are facing challenges of a magnitude not seen in our lifetime. As this guide illustrates, though, there are steps they can take to adapt to the present situation and continue to provide valuable products and services in their communities.”

The guide includes sections protecting employee and customer health, community initiatives to ease the strain, technology-based solutions like offering services online, and ideas for products or services to generate sales.

2:05 PM: UW Health Confirms Worker Tests Positive For Coronavirus

UW Health is reporting an employee has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Spokesperson Emily Kumlien did not reveal whether the employee was a physician or support staff. In a statement, UW Health said physicians, providers and staff may be exposed to the virus as COVID-19 is spreading in the community.

“We can confirm a positive result on our team and expect more,” wrote Kumlien. “We are following COVID-19 protocols in handling this case and any others that should arise. Additionally, we launched a dedicated drive-thru testing facility exclusively for UW Health physicians, providers and staff as part of an effort to keep our workforce healthy and preserve our capacity to handle care needs associated with COVID-19.”

1:40 PM: DHS Reports 206 Positive Cases In Wisconsin

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Friday afternoon there were 206 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 3,455 tests have come up negative. That was as of 1:40 p.m. Friday.

Palm released the figure during a media call to provide updates on the status of the disease’s spread in Wisconsin.

Palm said their hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the three individuals who have died so far in Wisconsin from the virus.

1:27 PM: UW-La Crosse Provides Enough Supplies For 2,900 Tests

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse faculty and staff are providing enough supplies to run 2,900 tests for the new coronavirus. Wisconsin, like other states, is struggling with a nationwide shortage of tests.

Gundersen Health System researchers reached out to UW-La Crosse microbiology professor Mike Hoffman asking for the supplies. The supplies were collected and delivered to Gundersen’s testing lab Friday morning.

“Our UWL faculty and staff and their families are an integral part of our greater La Crosse community,” said Mark Sandheinrich, dean of UWL’s College of Science and Health in a news release. “In our own way we each need to do our best to support our community in times of need.”

12:35 PM: Alternative Newspapers Go Dark For Time Being

The alternative weekly newspaper Shepherd Express said it’s temporarily suspending its print edition and shifting its focus to the newspaper’s website.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis is having a real impact on our newspaper. We are not alone in this,” wrote editor and publisher Louis Fortis. “Most of the weekly alternative newspapers across the country like the Shepherd have temporarily shifted from both a printed newspaper and a news website to just focusing on the website.”

The shut down marks the first time in 38 years the Milwaukee alt-weekly newspaper has been forced to temporarily suspended publication. It joins the Isthmus, an alternative-weekly newspaper based in Madison. That paper announced Thursday it would cease publication for the time being due to the many cancelations happening in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

12:16 PM: World’s Largest Brat Fest Postponed To August

The World’s Largest Brat Fest has now been postponed to August, according to Channel3000.

The event usually takes places over Memorial Day Weekend in Madison.

Brat Fest Inc. sales and marketing director Jeff Schroeter said the event will now be held Aug. 28-30. The move is being made to ensure a safe festival for volunteers and festival-goers.

12:09 PM: Douglas County Reports First Confirmed COVID-19 Case

Douglas County Public Health announced its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus.

Public health officials said in a news release posted on Facebook that the individual likely contracted the disease through travel.

The person is isolated at home, doing well and public health officials are reaching out to those who had close contact with the individual.

11:55 AM: Wisconsin Elections Commission Short On Absentee Ballot Envelopes

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, clerks are short on absentee ballots for the upcoming April 7 primary, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The newspaper is reporting the commission is sending out 1 million envelopes because clerks are roughly 600,000 short.

Clerks have encouraged people to vote absentee to avoid possibly spreading the new coronavirus.

11:44 AM: SSM Health Physician In Madison Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The Catholic, nonprofit health system said an SSM Health provider in Madison has tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to a news release.

The physician, who has been treating patients, did not show signs of symptoms during his or her last encounter with individuals. The provider is under self-quarantine.

According to SSM Health, it’s following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working with public health officials in Dane County to contact all who may have been in contact with the physician.

Jennifer Aumanstal is a charge nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison and has worked in the birth suite unit there for eight years. She told WPR she worked with a medical provider Saturday who tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

Aumanstal said her unit does present some extra risk of exposure to blood and bodily fluids, but she and her fellow nurses are practicing good hand hygiene. They wear gloves, but don’t normally wear masks or use personal protective equipment.

After learning she worked with someone who tested positive for the virus, she received a call from the director of SSM Health St. Mary’s Maternal and Child Health, as well as someone from the hospital’s Infectious Disease Control. Their instructions were to:

  • Check her temperature twice a day.
  • Work, but wear a mask while at work as long as she remains asymptomatic.

11:29 AM: Roundy’s Seeking 2.5K Positions

Roundy’s, a subsidiary of Kroger, said Friday it’s looking to hire 2,500 people, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

One of the state’s largest grocery companies that operates Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market stores said it’s looking for people to fill all positions and shifts at more than 100 stores. The hiring push is the result of more shopping due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Such stores recently reduced hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and announced senior hours from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. each day to support elderly and at-risk populations.

11:17 AM: Mayors Urge Delaying April 7 Election

The mayors of Appleton, Green Bay and Neenah are urging a delay to the April 7 primary election, according to the Associated Press.

The mayors want the election to include mail-in ballots only.

Gov. Tony Evers and lawmakers are planning to move ahead with the election as scheduled.

“Ensuring the health and safety of Wisconsinites is our top priority, but the governor has said repeatedly that our democracy must continue,” said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.

11:11 AM: Red Cliff Legendary Waters Resort And Casino Closes

Red Cliff Legendary Waters Resort and Casino closed its doors late Thursday through Sunday, April 5, to safeguard employees and patrons from the new coronavirus.

The casino joins others that have closed this week, including the Bad River Lodge and Casino, Oneida Casino, Sevenwinds Casino, Lodge and Conference Center and Forest County Potawatomi.

10:54 AM: Kewaunee County Closing Offices

Some counties are closing offices or limiting in-person services to protect employee and public health.

Kewaunee County announced it would close all county facilities until future notice beginning 1 p.m. Friday, March 20. The court house will only be opened two hours each weekday.

County workers will be allowed access, and employees are expected to work on-site or remotely. Counties have announced they’re limiting access to offices or requesting people conduct business online, including Dane, Bayfield, Brown and Douglas counties.

10:25 AM: Milwaukee State Representative Exposed To Someone With Coronavirus

State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, announced Thursday he was exposed to someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19

Urban Milwaukee reported Brostoff said in a Facebook post he was notified by the state Department of Health Services. He volunteered to self-quarantine.

Brostoff said the quarantine is “actually not that bad” and added he’s following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

10:08 AM: Mercyhealth Confirms Case In Support Services Employee

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Rock County was a support services employee for Mercyhealth, according to a news release.

The person tested positive Thursday. The employee is quarantined at home with mild symptoms. The exposure was “highly likely” to have taken place an out-of-state event, according to the Rock County Health Department.

Mercyhealth said the employee had no contact with patients and is following CDC protocols.

10:01 AM: Marathon County Reports First Confirmed Case

Marathon County is reporting its first confirmed case of an individual testing positive for COVID-19.

The person traveled domestically and is currently being isolated at home, according to a news release. Marathon County public health officials are determining how the person became infected and plans to contact people who had contact with the individual over the next few days.

County health officials say anyone who had contact with the person and shows symptoms will be isolated. Others who don’t show symptoms will self-quarantine at home.

9:52 AM: City Of Madison Offers Curbside Voting

The city of Madison announced Thursday it’s reserving four parking spots on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard outside the City-County Building and the Madison Municipal Building for curbside voting beginning Friday, March 20.

Voters can cast a ballot from their vehicle if they’re at high-risk for COVID-19, including older adults and people who are immunocompromised. Curbside voting will be offered from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays from March 20 through April 3.

Those who are not at high risk can vote absentee in person at the Clerk’s Office in City-County Building, Room 103, and in the Madison Municipal Building, Room 153.

9:30 AM: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Other State Universities Postpone Commencement

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse announced Thursday it’s postponing May commencement ceremonies.

“(I)n light of current restrictions on bringing groups of people together we and the other UW System universities have no choice but to postpone our May gatherings,” said Chancellor Joe Gow in an email.

Other schools have been reported to be postponing or canceling their commencement ceremonies, including neighboring Minnesota State System universities and the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. The move comes as UW-La Crosse, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Madison announced they’re moving all classes online for the rest of the semester.

8:20 AM: Third Person Dies From COVID-19

A 66-year-old man from Milwaukee has died from COVID-19, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner. The man had been hospitalized since March 16. The office does not know how he contracted the virus.

This is the third confirmed death in Wisconsin related to COVID-19. The first death was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County. The second was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County, according to the state.

8 PM THURSDAY: Milwaukee Mayor To Self-Quarantine

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been exposed to the new coronavirus, he revealed in a statement Thursday evening.

“I have been informed I came in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” he wrote. “I have consulted with public health officials and they have recommended 14 days of self-quarantine and therefore that’s what I will be doing. I am following best practices by self-isolating. In an effort to maintain social distancing the last several days, I have been continuing my duties and responsibilities by teleconference and videoconference and I expect to do the same during this time of self-quarantine.”

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, announced she would self-quarantine after becoming aware she had come into contact with someone infected with the virus

THURSDAY: Wisconsin National Guard Ready To Support State, If Needed

The Wisconsin National Guard is getting forces ready to respond to potential requests for assistance from other state agencies or communities, if its assistance is requested.

Approximately 300 troops have been mobilized to state active duty to posture the Guard for further state support, according to a statement.

“Serving our state during times of emergency is one of our core missions in the National Guard, and we stand ready to assist the state with whatever it may ask of us,” said Col. Eric Leckel, director of domestic operations for the Wisconsin National Guard.

THURSDAY: DHS Website Says 155 Confirmed Cases In Wisconsin

According to the state Department of Health Services’ website, there were 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin as of 1:50 p.m. Thursday. The 155 figure did not include two new cases in La Crosse County and the first confirmed case in Rock County announced late Thursday evening, bringing the total to at least 158.

That number included first confirmed cases in Bayfield, Calumet, Columbia, Eau Claire, Ozaukee, Sauk and Walworth counties.

This Week: Check Out Resources For More Information

Here’s a series of NPR articles that contain information that might be helpful: