MADISON — As the COVID-19 surge continues across the state, Gov. Tony Evers pleaded in a primetime address Nov. 10 for Wisconsinites to follow public health precautions by staying home and not gathering.
He announced a new executive order “advising Wisconsinites to stay home to save lives,” citing strained hospital capacities and case counts, hospitalizations and deaths that have escalated and repeatedly broken records in recent weeks.
Getting the coronavirus pandemic under control is also critical to economic recovery, he said.
“Each day this virus goes unchecked is a setback for our economic recovery. Our bars, restaurants, small businesses, families and farmers will continue to suffer if we don’t take action right now — our economy cannot bounce back until we contain this virus,” he said.
‘We are overwhelmed’
The number of people with active, confirmed COVID-19 infections has been rising steadily in Green County since about Sept. 1 and reached its highest daily count yet on Nov. 12 at 183, with four hospitalized.
Since March, Green County Public Health reports 1,302 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Of these, five have died and 1,114 are listed as recovered.
The 14-day positive rate is now up to just over 25%, meaning one in four residents who get tested are infected. Since the start of the pandemic, 12,690 residents have been tested, roughly one-third of the county’s population.
Lafayette County reported another death in the past week, bringing the total to two.
As in Green County, the surge is not letting up. As of Nov. 11, Lafayette County officials reported a record-breaking 251 active COVID-19 cases and another 17 probable cases. The 14-day positive rate is approaching 35%, with community transmission at nearly 45% — meaning close to half of those tested do not know where they caught the virus.
The Lafayette County Health Department sounded the alarm on its Facebook page: “Lafayette County COVID-19 cases are now CRITICALLY HIGH! We are overwhelmed and need your help! Please stay home if possible and keep your circle as small as possible. Wear a mask when outside of your home. And BE KIND.”
The Department of Health Services added the “critically high” category to its Disease Activity Dashboard this week. Previously the highest level was “very high.” The new “critically high” category is nearly three times higher than “very high” and “indicates how alarming COVID-19 activity is in counties and regions throughout Wisconsin,” according to a DHS announcement this week.
Both the state as a whole and 65 out of 72 counties are at this “critically high” level. Green County remains at “very high” activity.
Some students sent home
Schools in Albany, Juda and Monticello have reported no recent issues, but as of Nov. 12, Monroe schools reported three staff members and 16 students were positive with COVID-19, with an additional 76 staff and students in quarantine. More were awaiting test results.
District Administrator Rick Waski called it a substantial increase over just 10 days prior. In an email to parents, he announced all students will be learning from home virtually through Thanksgiving.
The district “had spread of COVID-19 this week in our schools,” he wrote. “We have tried to maintain face-to-face instruction, but it is apparent that it cannot work at this time.”
The Darlington School District also announced this week that due to the number of staff and students out on quarantine, all students in grades pre-K through 8th grade will learn virtually from home until Nov 30. The high school was not affected by the change.
Other schools are returning to face-to-face instruction after periods of virtual learning.
Argyle students returned to in-person classes Nov. 11. Middle and high school students in the Pecatonica Area School District also returned to face-to-face instruction this week, with the elementary school returning Nov. 16. Black Hawk middle and high school students return to in-person school Nov. 16, as well.
Brodhead schools are also cautiously returning to more in-person learning, after outbreaks among students earlier in the school year. In a Nov. 12 message to parents, Superintendent Lenny Lueck struck a hopeful note.
“As of right now, we only have one positive COVID-19 case in the district since last Thursday. This will allow us to get back to in-person learning,” he wrote. At a meeting the night before, the school board voted for the elementary school to return to and the middle school to remain in Plan A, or full face-to-face education. The high school is remaining in Plan B, a blended model.
Lueck cautioned parents to be mindful during the upcoming holiday season: “I am not going to tell you what you should or should not do, but please keep all of us in mind when you make your social gathering decisions.”
Also in Brodhead, the police department announced it is suspending Department of Transportation (DOT) services until Nov. 17 “due to being short-staffed in dispatch and the uptick in COVID-positive address points” in the Brodhead ZIP code and across Green and Rock counties.
5,000 deaths by Jan. 1
About 2,500 Wisconsinites have died of COVID-19 so far. With less than two months remaining in 2020, that number could double by Jan. 1 if no further actions are taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Evers said, citing projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Gov. Evers’ executive order this week is a recommendation and will not be enforced, unlike his “Safer at Home” order in the early months of the pandemic.
“That order was struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court — a decision that hamstrung our ability to respond to this virus by using the tools supported by science and public health experts,” he said. “We once led our region in containing this virus, but now surges in our state rival what we saw in New York City this spring.”
He said Wisconsin must urgently “get back to the basics of fighting this virus just like we did last spring.”
That means staying home as much as possible, and when out and about, wearing a mask and staying six feet apart.
“Please,” Gov. Evers said, “cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home. And if a friend or family member invites you over, offer to hang out virtually instead.”
He urged Wisconsinites to keep supporting local businesses, restaurants and workers “by sticking to curbside pickup, delivery or using online ordering whenever you can.”
“If you need to get out and go for a walk or a bike ride, that’s alright, too — it’s important now more than ever to get some exercise and take good care of our physical and mental health.”
He ended his address with a message of hope.
“The surges we see — the new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — these are not foregone conclusions. These are predictable and preventable. That means the fight against this virus is winnable, but only if we fight it together.”