New health emergency and mask order comes with new vaccine channels

    COVID-19 mask spray painted in black on white wall
    Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

    Gov. Tony Evers announced a new 60-day health emergency on Friday, while also extending the statewide mask order, in response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

    The order came as the latest numbers for confirmed infections as well as deaths from the novel coronavirus showed another downward trend, although Wisconsin continues to report “unacceptably high levels of disease in all areas of the state,” according to Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer in the state Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

    As of mid-afternoon on Friday, Wisconsin had recorded 2,269 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 32 new deaths, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported. Over the weekend, DHS added 1,937 new cases on Saturday and 1,606 on Sunday, while reporting 129 new deaths over the two days. With those additions, the state listed 521,794 confirmed cases and 5,451 deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday afternoon.

    Along with the health emergency and mask order, Evers and DHS announced new vaccine initiatives. Those include a mobile vaccination clinic to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19, as well as an expansion of vaccinations to assisted living residents.

    The mobile vaccination program, which will begin with nine teams, will be staffed with the help of Wisconsin National Guard personnel. The teams will first focus on providing vaccination to the highest priority recipients, beginning with frontline health care workers who aren’t already affiliated with a health care organization that has been vaccinating its employees. They will be followed by frontline essential workers outside of the health care field, such as police officers and firefighters, and by people 75 or older.

    The vaccination of assisted living facility residents will be handled by the national pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS, which have been vaccinating nursing home residents.

    As the state continues to roll out the vaccine, however, the supply of vaccine from the federal government remains a bottleneck. The latest kink in the distribution was reported Friday with the disclosure that the federal stockpile had been depleted even as states were hoping that their weekly allotments would increase.

    At a Friday briefing with reporters, Evers said the news contradicted what governors had been told in a conference call earlier this week with Vice President Mike Pence and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Both of the vaccine types in use so far require two doses several weeks apart, and Evers said governors had been told that the federal government would be sending states doses from the stockpile that had been reserved to administer a second dose to people who have already received a first shot.

    To learn that those doses have already been depleted when the federal officials had been told earlier they would be receiving them “was a slap in the face to the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “And frankly, I have no idea why they made that claim” otherwise.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.