Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency today in response to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the world.
Evers signed an executive order directing the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to use “all the resources necessary” to contain the outbreak, he announced in a press conference today at the state Capitol.
“We have been working aggressively to slow the spread of coronavirus, and this declaration allows us to get the resources we need to continue to be proactive when it comes to protecting Wisconsinites,” Evers said in a statement. “It is the latest step in the work our state agencies have been doing around the clock with our health care partners to prepare for the possibility of coronavirus becoming a global pandemic.”
The executive order frees up state resources so that DHS can purchase, store, or distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance or other health coverage, to respond to the emergency. It also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation, quarantine and the use of the Wisconsin National Guard.
It was also revealed today that Wisconsin Army National Guard troops will transport 37 individuals who were aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship back to their homes in Wisconsin for self-isolation. The cruise ship had been docked in Oakland, California and quarantined due to passengers with confirmed cases of the virus.
The 37 citizens will be flown to Wisconsin at a location that has yet to be determined where they will be greeted by DHS personnel and transported to their homes, said Brigadier General Joane Mathews, Wisconsin Army National Guard.
“Out of an abundance of caution, troops involved with this mission will self-monitor for 14 days following completion of this mission,” Mathews said. “Even though the individuals we are transporting have not tested positive for coronavirus and are asymptomatic.”
A total of 7 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Wisconsin with cases identified in Waukesha, Pierce, Dane and Fond du Lac counties.
The first confirmed case was discovered in Dane County in early February. That patient was exposed to known cases while in China and after isolating at home, is now recovered and doing well, according to a press release.
It’s not clear what capacity Wisconsin labs have for testing coronavirus. However, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene can handle about 100 tests a day, said Andrea Palm, DHS secretary-designee.
“We are also in constant communication with the private labs that are now starting to get up and running,” Palm said.
Wisconsin is able to keep up with the current demand for coronavirus for testing, but that could soon change, Palm said.
“We think very soon we will be beyond the current capacity that we have for testing and we are asking and working with the federal government to replenish our supplies so that as a state, we have the resources to do the testing we need to do,” Palm said.
When a healthcare provider sends a sample to the lab for testing, there's a limited amount of time to ensure the accuracy of the test, Palm added.
"The sample has a shelf life," Palm said. "As we track carefully the throughput of the system, we need to make sure that tests can get into the test before they expire," Palm said. "So, that's the balance we're striking."
The DHS also issued new guidance which Palm said is critical for individuals and businesses to follow to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"We are at a moment and what we've seen around the globe and the United States is that a couple of cases can quickly become many cases," Palm said. "And so we have an inflection point now to lean in and do something in an aggressive way in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19."
The new guidance on health recommendations, daily routine, mass gatherings and travel can be found here.
When asked if the July Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee would be canceled, Evers said there were no plans to do so at this point.
"That's four months out," Evers said. "We're going to be following carefully, obviously there's multiple options but we're in constant communication with them. I would not say that we're planning on doing that but as time goes on we'll be in a better position to make that judgement."
Evers also said his administration is working with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and other agencies
"We're working with them and certainly we're hoping that employers will be very lenient around the issue of sick leave and working from home," Evers said.