Barrett calls on Evers to declare public health emergency as city prepares for coronavirus

Would free up federal supplies

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik discuss the city's response to the coronavirus in mid-March.

Last updated on March 12th, 2020 at 02:02 pm

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has called on Gov. Tony Evers to declare a public health emergency in response to the coronavirus.

The measure would allow the city to gain access to federal resources and supplies if the virus spreads to Milwaukee.

“It’s to open the door for federal resources so that we can ensure our health care and public safety officials will have the personal protective equipment they need to continue to serve the residents of Milwaukee,” Barrett said. “…This is a proactive measure.”

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Milwaukee County. However, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced late Wednesday afternoon that three more people in the state have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to six. Two of the cases are in Fond du Lac and one is in Waukesha County. Earlier this week, DHS announced there were two confirmed cases in Dane and one in Pierce County.

The Waukesha County patient was exposed while traveling in the United States and internationally, and is currently isolated at home. Both Fond du Lac County patients were exposed while traveling, one in the U.S. and one internationally. One patient is hospitalized, while the other person is isolated at home.

“It would be foolish for us to pretend that it’s not going to hit here,” Barrett said of the virus spreading to neighboring Waukesha County.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the COVID-19 disease a pandemic.

Evers, along with DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm and other state officials, is scheduled to make an announcement regarding the state’s response to the coronavirus Thursday.

Barrett said the city’s public health lab is prepared to run coronavirus tests 24/7 moving forward. He would like to see its capacity to grow from about 30 cases per day to 300-500 per day, he said.

“To me, testing is very, very important,” he said. “When I look around the globe, when I look at other parts of the country, in particular where testing has not been done, there have been problems. Where testing has been done, there seems to be a better response to this.”

As of late Wednesday, city health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said her department is not mandating any event cancellations or closures, but rather will defer to event organizers on whether they continue hosting their scheduled events.

“Getting to that point of using these heavier measures of enforcing isolation, quarantine, closures, cancellations, that’s something that would be considered, but at this very moment this is not being issued in this community,” Kowalik said.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will suspend in-person instruction after spring break until at least April 10 after an employee of its foundation was tested Monday for the virus. All classes and campus events will be held through Saturday as originally scheduled.

UW-Madison is also suspending in-person instruction following spring break through at least April 10.

Kowalik said she has not recommended Milwaukee Public Schools close at this point.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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