Wisconsin declares public health emergency, recommends event cancellations
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has declared a public health emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The declaration opens the Department of Health Services to "use all the resources necessary to respond to and contain the outbreak."
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Wisconsin has eight confirmed cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, after two new cases in Dane County were confirmed Thursday. One person has recovered; the other 7 cases were just confirmed this week.
The cases are in Fond du Lac County, Dane County, Waukesha County and Pierce County.
"Five cases are in isolation at home, being monitored by local health officials, while one person is currently hospitalized," says Wisconsin Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm.
Also, 37 people are returning from Wisconsin from a Princess cruise ship. They may have been exposed to the virus and are being told to self-quarantine for 14 days.
"They're Wisconsinites," says Gov. Evers. "The ones we're bringing home either have been tested or will be tested immediately after being here. They've been gone a long time. It's time to bring them home."
Brigadier General Joane K. Matthews of the Wisconsin National Guard says the guard has been asked to help transport the cruise ship members home.
"Yesterday, the Wisconsin National Guard received a request for assistance from DHS to assist in transporting 37 Wisconsin citizens who were aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship back to their homes for self-isolation," says Matthews.
The National Guard is mobilizing up to 30 soldiers and airmen to state active duty to serve as drivers. They'll drive the citizens to their homes. The soldiers will follow CDC protocols and then self-monitor for 14 days.
The Wisconsin residents on the cruise ship have not tested positive for the virus and at this point do not have symptoms, Matthews says.
A flight carrying the cruise ship passengers is set to land at a location to be determined.
The state has issued recommendations for the cancellation of all events with over 250 people. If the event has less than 250 people, the state is finalizing guidance on whether to cancel.
for information on travel guidance from the CDC.
Palm says public schools will remain open at this time. She says they provide an essential service and can remain open "using tools and tactics so they can continue to do the essential functions they need to do."
Palm recommends people plan ahead for the possibility of a quarantine.
"If you haven't already done so, we encourage you to put together a two-week supply of food. Think about your medicines, your prescription drugs, your pets," says Palm. "This advice is not intended to encourage the hoarding of supplies, but to keep you from having to go to a public place in the event that you become ill and need to isolate at home for two weeks."
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic.
“We have been working aggressively to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this declaration allows us to get the resources we need to continue to be proactive when it comes to protecting Wisconsinites,” said Gov. Evers. “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 COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic.”
DHS will be able to purchase, store or distribute medications "regardless of insurance or other health coverage." State funds can be used to support local health departments. It also allows the use of the Wisconsin National Guard in case of emergency.
"Wisconsin has one of the most dedicated public health work forces in the country and they're doing excellent work in addressing this virus," said Gov. Evers.
Evers says he is concerned about vulnerable people in society and the state is making sure they will have what they need.
"One is food security. We have tens of thousands of folks in Wisconsin, including kids and older adults, who rely on schools and non-profits in order to get their meals. Ensuring that those folks are taken care of is a top priority," said Evers. "I'm also deeply concerned about the homeless individuals and other vulnerable individuals in our community. Our team will continue to work with local partners around the state to ensure that we're able to support those who need our help."
The governor also addressed upcoming elections. The state primary is April 7. Evers urges voters to vote early.
"At the end of the day, we know this virus spreads extremely fast. And we know it's lethal," says Dr. Ashok Rai, Prevea Health President/CEO.
Dr. Rai says the United States health care infrastructure is not designed for a pandemic.
"Canceling events is not mass hysteria. Mass hysteria is when a health system is completely overrun and 20 people need a ventilator and we have one ventilator left and we have to make a decision on which person is going to survive and which person isn't. That's the situation we're trying to prevent right now," says Dr. Rai.
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Action 2 News will update this developing story