By Shereen Siewert

State officials on Tuesday are reporting 457 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, though the actual number is likely many times higher because only the most critical patients are currently being tested.

Tuesday’s number is up from 416 reported 24 hours earlier. The death toll in Wisconsin remains at five.

During a Tuesday news conference, Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the “Shelter at Home” order is in response to models that show Wisconsin would have about 22,000 positive case and between 440 to 1,550 deaths in Wisconsin by April 18 without such safeguards.

“This means thousands of Wisconsinites would need hospitalization and we would exceed our current hospital bed capacity,” Palm said.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist for Communicable Disease, said the actual current number of cases in the state could potentially number in the thousands. About 90 percent of people who have the infection don’t require urgent medical care, so those cases are going undetected. Also since March 17, Wisconsin labs were directed to process only the top two tiers of a four-tier system of specimens taken.

Like other labs nationwide, both Wisconsin labs have a “finite number of reagents and supplies available” for testing, Westergaard said. Consequently, state officials are requesting health care providers to prioritize testing for hospitalized patients for whom timely diagnosis of COVID-19 is critical to make the best possible treatment choices.

In addition, Westergaard said, the way the state collects information — from reference labs rather than the hospitals themselves — also has an impact on the numbers reported.

The state also begins a “Safer at Home” order at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 25, that remains in effect until Friday, April 24, or until a superseding order is released.

Under the order, Wisconsin residents can perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety such as obtaining medication or seeing a doctor; get food and supplies for humans and pets necessary for staying home; care for a family member in another household; and care for older adults, minors, dependents, people with disabilities or other vulnerable people.

A list of essential businesses and industries exempt from the order can be found here.

“Safer at Home” order, explained

Anyone with questions or immediate needs related to COVID-19 can:

Call volumes are high, please be patient and try to use the text or online options first.