State: Prep for school closures as coronavirus cases more than double overnight

in Breaking News/COVID-19/Health

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin officials warned parents Friday to prepare for school closures and issued guidelines limiting visitors to assisted-living facilities and prisons as the new coronavirus continues to spread across the state.

State Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters during a conference call that the number of confirmed infections stood at 19 as of Friday afternoon, up from eight on Thursday.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer for communicable diseases, said DHS is investigating the transmission vectors but does not believe so-called “community spread” has taken hold yet. The term describes the spread where the source is unknown.

Dijk said the agency is discussing possible school closures with Gov. Tony Evers’ office and the state Department of Public Instruction and will be issuing guidance soon.

She hinted that closure decisions will be left up to individual districts, much like decisions to close because of inclement weather. Minutes after the conference call began, 13 suburban Milwaukee school districts announced they will close on Monday. The districts hope to re-open on April 13.

“It is complicated,” Dijk said. “There are both advantages to closing schools and also distinct disadvantages. (Parents) should start thinking about what would I do if schools are closed for an extended period of time. Where would my children go? How would you adapt to that?”

She cautioned parents not to place children with grandparents since elderly people are more vulnerable to the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

State health and corrections officials issued new policies Friday limiting visitors to nursing homes and visits to state prisons to “professionals” only, such as investigators and public officials.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association took the unprecedented steps late Thursday of canceling the girls high school state basketball championship tournament after the first day of games and canceling the boys tournament scheduled for March 19-21 at the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. UW officials said the arena would not be available in the wake of a decision to essentially shut down face-to-face instruction at the school through early April.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Dijek defended the extensive cancellations and disruptions they’ve caused, saying the state wants to slow the spread of the virus so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with patients.

The state Public Service Commission declared that the state’s winter moratorium on disconnecting residential water, electric and natural gas service will extend until the public health emergency Evers declared Thursday lifts. The moratorium was scheduled to end April 15.

The commission also ordered utilities to reconnect service to occupied dwellings that have been disconnected.

Jim Dick, a spokesman for former Gov. Scott Walker, said Walker has quarantined himself in his home for the last two weeks after speaking with an infected person at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., in February. His self-imposed isolation will end Friday, Dick said.

Sen. Ron Johnson’s office said Johnson is feeling healthy after a March 2 meeting with a member of the Spanish parliament who has tested positive for the coronavirus. But the office said he’s consulting with doctors about a possible self-quarantine.

___

Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.