MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin policymakers scrambled Wednesday to help displaced workers, shuttered bars and restaurants, and others reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, even as new limitations were placed on child care facilities and the number of confirmed cases in the state topped 100, including a children’s hospital doctor.
Gov. Tony Evers ordered that child care settings have no more than 10 staffers and 50 children present at the same time. Providers were asked to prioritize families of healthcare and essential service providers. The restrictions take effect on Thursday at 8 a.m. and to remain in place indefinitely.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported Wednesday that 106 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in 14 counties. There was community spread — where officials can’t trace how or where a person caught the disease — in Milwaukee, Dane and Kenosha counties. Community spread is one factor that is expected to continue to drive the numbers even higher.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa said on Wednesday that a doctor had tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling outside the state before restrictions were in place. The doctor was quarantined at home and had mild symptoms.
“We have seen this happen at health care organizations across the nation, and we knew it was only a matter of time before we had a confirmed case on our team,” the hospital said in a statement.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the hospital was testing 10 patients and about 190 health care workers, but a national shortage of tests was leaving out some of those who may have been exposed to the doctor, including the father of a teenage girl with leukemia who is being isolated with his daughter.
Evers, a Democrat, was to speak with Republican legislative leaders about his plan for a far-reaching emergency package of legislation to help those struggling with the outbreak. Evers has said he wants the Legislature to remove a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits, which the Legislature rejected just last year.
Evers was expected to issue an executive order speeding up unemployment benefits for those who have lost a job due to the outbreak. He also submitted a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration for disaster loans of up to $2 million for each qualifying small business and private nonprofit organization that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board on Tuesday approved $5 million to pay for grants of up to $20,000 for businesses with fewer than 20 employees to cover rent and payroll expenses related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Democratic and Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation joined together to ask for more surgical masks, respirators and other equipment as they said hospitals awaiting a rush of patients were “critically low” on needed supplies.
The lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to request nearly 55,000 respirators, more than 130,000 surgical masks, nearly 25,000 face shields, more than 20,000 surgical gowns, about 100 coveralls and 72,000 gloves from the national stockpile.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson along with U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, Bryan Steil and Mike Gallagher. Only Reps. Glenn Grothman and Jim Sensenbrenner, both Republicans, did not sign it. They did not immediately respond to messages asking why.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered schools, colleges, universities, bars, restaurants and other businesses throughout the state, just as it has across the country. Health officials are urging people to stay at home and to avoid contact with others in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
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. The vast majority of people recover.
Evers has also ordered a statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people and closed all bars and restaurants except for delivery and pickup orders. Some bars ignored the order, while others were laying off employees in anticipation of the massive drop in business.
People who violate the order could risk up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, but enforcement is up to local law enforcement agencies, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement.