Evers: Bad news and good news on COVID-19 in Wisconsin

The governor also says he wants schools open in the fall if possible because the kids need it

COVID-19 Global economic recession. Depressed woman desperate not able to pay rent and expenses. Worker affected by global economic recession amid to Coronavirus job losses and financial impact. Getty images
COVID-19 Global economic recession. Depressed woman desperate not able to pay rent and expenses. Worker affected by global economic recession amid to Coronavirus job losses and financial impact. Getty Images

Gov. Tony Evers began his Thursday press briefing on COVID-19 with some bad news. 

“This week we reached an unfortunate milestone — every county in Wisconsin has now recorded at least one case of COVID-19,” said Evers. “This disease is impacting every corner of the state and we now have fewer tools at our disposal to help mitigate the spread.”

Gov. Tony Evers at media briefing 5/21/20
Gov. Tony Evers at media briefing 5/21/20

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Wisconsinites hard — physically, emotionally and financially,” he continued. “And we all must do our part to get through this crisis and get back to our Wisconsin way of life.”

Results from the last several days showed a spike in the number of positive tests, including an all-time daily high of 528 new cases, but Secretary-designee Andrea Palm put it in perspective by looking at it as a percentage of the number of tests conducted, which at 9,400 was the highest number of tests done in one day. 

“So the positive test rate was only 5% — which is a good percentage,” said Palm. “That’s where we want to be over the trend here. What we’re looking at in our metrics is the percent positive, and we want that to go as low as it can. And so we feel pretty good about the 5% number today.”

Palm also said that any current increase in cases or hospitalization cannot necessarily be attributed to the lifting of the Safer at Home order by the Supreme Court, because the lag time between catching COVID-19 and demonstrating symptoms can be lengthy.

Andrea Palm 5/21/20
Andrea Palm 5/21/20

“The lag on hospitalizations is about three to five weeks, post infection,” said Palm. “So I think it’s certainly safe to say that any uptick we’re seeing in hospitalizations right now is not a result of the end of Safer at Home.”

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer with the Dept. of Health Services answers questions during a COVID-19 briefing via phone on 03/23/20. (Photo: screenshot from YouTube of call.)
Dr. Ryan Westergaard,

Wisconsin Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard cast a bit of doubt on that statement, adding that it’s also not uncommon that people could have severe symptoms in the first days of diagnosis, but agreed that “it’s too early to say that the numbers we saw today and yesterday are part of a trend.” He added a lot more information is needed to determine if there is any correlation. 

Some other questions that may be on the minds of the public were also addressed, including these two:

When might there be an announcement on schools reopening? 

Evers said he has been meeting with the Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor and others on this topic. He hopes to have information on the options that may be available by mid-to-late June. 

But he cautioned that there isn’t likely to be a set answer that far in advance — even though he personally believes schools should reopen if it is possible to do so safely.

Young student watching lesson online and studying from home
Young student watching lesson online and studying from home
by loops7, Getty Images

“I think our goal should be to have school open this fall,” said Evers. “But, but we also have to be prepared for alternatives, A, B, C and D. This virus certainly is unpredictable. So we want to make sure that we do the right thing, but I I think as a grandparent and former teacher, some normalcy for our kids is necessary. So it should be our goal. It certainly will look different than it did before that happened, but we want to make sure that our kids have the opportunity to have some normalcy in their life.” 

Will the state play a large role in the lawsuit filed against local governments that are keeping at stay-at-home order in place by Reopen Wisconsin organizers and others? 

Evers’ legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen took some shots at the mass confusion and chaos caused by the Supreme Court’s decision to toss out the administration’s Safer At Home order and the problems it caused before confirming that the state will be actively involved. 

Gov. Evers' chief legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen
Gov. Evers’ chief legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen

“They created the 72 county approach to dealing with the pandemic and even within counties you’re seeing different municipalities having different rules,” Nilsestuen said. “In terms of the validity of the orders, though, the Attorney General issued a very timely opinion on this, saying that the orders are valid and providing guidance on how to enact those. … Unfortunately because of the Supreme Court decision and the failure of the Legislature to act, local public health officers have been on the front lines dealing with fighting the disease and now, unfortunately, they’re being put at the front lines of the litigation involving these orders. But I am optimistic that this lawsuit will go nowhere.”

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