Evers talks COVID-19 impact on gatherings, homeless, meals and voting

The governor declares a Wisconsin State of Emergency due to COVID-19

Gov. Tony Evers holds a news conference declaring a public health state of emergency due to COVID-19 3/12/20
Gov. Tony Evers holds a news conference declaring a public health state of emergency due to COVID-19 3/12/20

Thursday morning Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health state of emergency due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, saying the declaration would give the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and other agencies the tools needed to prevent the spread of this coronavirus. 

Topping the news from a press conference, Andrea Palm, the secretary-designee of Department of Health Services (DHS), urged cancellation of events with more than 250 people, other than K-12 schools.

“We’re at a moment,” Palm stated, “What we’ve seen around the globe, what we’ve seen here in the United States is that a couple of cases can quickly become many cases. 

The administration called for new steps in schools to keep children in smaller groups. Evers noted that he visited a school right before the news conference Thursday. A planned all-school assembly of 400 kids was cancelled and he instead met with smaller groups of 30-or-so kids and had to avoid his usual high-fives. 

Given that the issue is being monitored with partners and information shared, Evers said there were several things “that have really been on my mind” tied to the health emergency. “One is food security,” he noted. “We have tens of thousands of folks in Wisconsin, including kids and older adults, who rely on schools and nonprofits in order to get their meals. Ensuring that those folks are taken care of is a top priority.”

Another issue Evers said caused additional concern are “the homeless individuals and other vulnerable individuals in our community.” His team is working with local partners to provide needed support.

“We’ve also got some elections coming up, folks,” he continued. “The good news is that absentee voting in Wisconsin is really easy. I’m encouraging everybody who can vote early to ensure that your vote is counted and your voice is heard to take advantage of that.” 

He concluded by complimenting public workers who are working diligently to address the situation.

Palm stated that there are five confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, in Pierce, Dane, Fond du Lac and Waukesha counties — and one person who has recovered. “All of these cases were exposed to COVID-19 while traveling,” said Palm, adding one person is hospitalized and DHS is “contact tracing” to be in touch with anyone who may have come in contact with these individuals.

The 37 people from Wisconsin that were on the Princess cruise ship are being brought home and monitored in self-quarantine. The Wisconsin National Guard will escort them home.

Other state actions and news from Thursday’s press conference:

  • The Wisconsin Office of The Commissioner of Insurance requested insurers waive co-pays for COVID-19 testing
  • Federal funds of $10.2 million were secured by the state and Evers said he will continue to work to ensure that Wisconsin is capitalizing on available federal assistance.
  • The governor’s declaration authorizes the Wisconsin National Guard to respond to the health issue.
  • The declaration also means that state funds can be distributed to local health officials to help cover costs related to isolating people who have the virus or were exposed. 
  • Evers asks consumer protection officials to be on the lookout for any price gouging that would keep necessary supplies from becoming affordable.
  • DHS is ordered to purchase and distribute medications to respond to any outbreak, without consideration of insurance.
  • Earlier this week, the state Department of Financial Institutions warned consumers to beware of scams by con artists exploiting fear and uncertainty related to the virus and to its impact on the stock markets.
  • DHS recommends people reconsider travel to communities that have had “sustained community transmission” which currently includes California, New York and Washington.

Palm concluded with the increasingly familiar guidance, urging Wisconsinites to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, refrain from shaking hands and stay home if ill.

Palm also suggested people “put together a two-week supply of food and medicines” as they would in any natural disaster “to keep you from having to go to a public place in the event you become ill.”

She added with emphasis, it’s “not to encourage hoarding.” “As this is a rapidly evolving pandemic, our guidance will change, so stay tuned,” said Palm.

Updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Wisconsin-specific information from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services will be posted here.

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.