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Wisconsin Travelers Taking Precautions But Not Changing Plans Amid Spreading Coronavirus

3 COVID-19 Cases Confirmed In Wisconsin

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Mitchell International Airport
The Mitchell International Airport was virtually empty on the morning of Tuesday, March 10, 2020. On Tuesday the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced the third positive test for COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is quickly spreading across the globe. Corrinne Hess/WPR

As the rapid spread of COVID-19 continues to cause alarm worldwide, travelers at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport were taking precautions, but not changing their plans.

Cindy and Bob Biechler were traveling Tuesday morning from Menasha to Monterey, California to visit their son and his family.

California has more than 120 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. But the Biechlers weren’t worried about traveling.

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So far there have been three confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, according to the state health department.

Bob and Cindy Biechler at Mitchell International Airport
From left to right, Bob and Cindy Biechler, are traveling from from Menasha to Monterey, California, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 to visit their son and his family. The two did not cancel their trip from Mitchell International Airport because of the coronavirus but are taking precautions, like using hand sanitzer and other safety measures. Corrinne Hess/WPR

“I mean, we’ll be smart about it,” Cindy said. “We’ll wash our hands and do everything like that, but it’s not going to stop us.”

Bob points to his carry-on and laughs: “We’ve got a lot of hand sanitizers. In fact, we’re brining a lot of hand sanitizer to our son, because they can’t find any out there.”

Dave Hetzel from Glendale said he had some anxiety about going to visit a friend in Phoenix, Arizona, but when he got to the airport he felt better.

“There is hardly anyone here,” Hetzel said. “I thought briefly about canceling. The anxiety is I may be stuck down there for 14 days, quarantined. Or we might be driving back instead of flying back.”

Mitchell International Airport was virtually empty Tuesday morning.

Peter Lee works at the airport’s information desk. He said it was slower Monday and Tuesday. But, the passengers who were there, weren’t nervous about their travels.

“I have had a few phone calls from people asking if they could carry a box of Clorox wipes on the plane,” Lee said, and the answer is you can.

Lee himself has travel plans in May and June that he’s not planning to cancel.

“Personally, I’m not terribly concerned, until it shows up in Milwaukee,” Lee said. “We’re watching it, of course, but so far the people that I’m in contact with have said everything is in place.”

Peter Lee works at the Mitchell International Airport information desk
Peter Lee works at the information desk at Mitchell International Airport and on Tuesday, May 10, 2020 he said he has been getting calls wondering if it’s OK to take boxes of Clorox wipes on airplanes. On Tuesday the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced the third positive test for COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is quickly spreading across the globe. Corrinne Hess/WPR

General Mitchell International Airport representatives are referring all questions about the novel coronavirus to the Milwaukee Health Department and federal government.

Passenger numbers for February have not yet been released.

The airport does not have any nonstop flights to China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, or any other countries heavily impacted by COVID-19, said spokesperson Harold Mester in a written statement.

“The federal government is the lead authority, in partnership with the airlines, on procedures followed at airports nationwide, including Milwaukee,” Mester said.

To prevent the virus from spreading, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if a sink isn’t available.

“For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild illness; however, it can make some people very ill and, in some people, it can be fatal,” the World Health Organization told NPR. “Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at risk for severe disease.”

Pat Jorgesen flew into Milwaukee from Florida on Tuesday morning to visit her sister for a few days, before heading to Chicago to see a Broadway show.

She said before leaving, her grown children begged her to cancel her trip. But she thinks they are being overly cautious.

“I think if you take the precautious against the flu or anything else … I mean what are you going to do, isolate yourself forever?” Jorgesen said. “(My kids) think I’m too old to be exposed to anything. But why stay home?”

COVID-19 is not airborne and is transferred through droplets from coughing or sneezing. The directory of Emory University’s Center for Nursing Data Science who co-led a study on flights and disease transmission told NPR that filters on airplanes are powerful and can be safer than that in your office building.

On Tuesday afternoon a coalition of 150 travel-related organizations including the Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association issued a statement saying it is safe to travel.

“While it’s critically important to remain vigilant and take useful precautions in times like these, it’s equally important to make calm, rational, and fact-based decisions,” the statement said. “Though the headlines may be worrisome, experts continue to say the overall coronavirus risk in the U.S. remains low. At-risk groups are older individuals and those with underlying health conditions, who should take extra precautions.”

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