By Shereen Siewert
The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Wisconsin continued to rise on Monday as the fight over the state’s primary election rages on.
As of 2 p.m. on Monday, 2,440 in Wisconsin tested positive for the novel coronavirus including 12 in Marathon County, health officials said Monday.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the state now has 12 active labs performing tests, with a capacity of 3,563 of tests each day. The state processed 26,574 negative tests to date, Palm said. Statewide, 77 people have died after contracting the virus, including two people at a nursing home in Sheboygan, where the National Guard is supporting a mobile testing site.
Two counties — Kewaunee and Waushara — reported their first cases on Monday. To date, 668 patients have been hospitalized, or about 27 percent of patients testing positive for the virus, according to DHS data.
“There will be a lot of death,” Gov. Tony Evers said Monday during a news briefing. “We expect more cases; we expect more deaths; we expect more tragedy.”
Evers on Monday issued an executive order to delay the state’s presidential primary for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, a move that will almost certainly prompt a court challenge and inject new uncertainty about whether the election will move forward.
Evers, a Democrat, previously opposed moving Tuesday’s election but is now pushing to delay it until June 9. Some poll sites have already closed because volunteers are unwilling to staff them.
Wisconsin’s governor had been unable to strike a deal with Republicans to reschedule the election. His order comes after the GOP-controlled Legislature refused his request to cancel in-person voting on Tuesday.
Evers told reporters Monday that there is “no safe way” to administer in-person voting at this time. The decision is widely expected to trigger a court challenge, something Evers could possibly have prevented by waiting until the close of business on Monday to circumvent.
When asked by a reporter Monday why he didn’t delay the order until later in the day, Evers said, “I’m not playing games, here.”
In an email, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said “We can be certain there will be very fast moving litigation.”
Palm and Evers issued two emergency orders suspending some DHS administrative rules, an effort to help maximize Wisconsin’s health care workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The orders allow health care facilities, providers, and emergency medical services “flexibility to address staffing needs, yet still provide needed care,” Evers said, in a news release.
The order adjusts training and license renewal deadlines, as well as paramedic-level ambulance staffing levels for emergency medical services. It suspends staff orientations at home health agencies and hospices, adjusts nurse aide training hours, relaxes criteria for resident care staff at community-based residential facilities and adult family homes, and ensures nursing homes cannot discharge patients who are unable to pay. The order also modifies requirements at opiate addiction treatment services so staff can continue to be responsive and accessible.
“This order reduces regulatory burdens on facilities and emergency services and allows them to meet the critical needs of their residents and patients during this public health emergency,” Palm said.
A second order allows health care provider licenses that would have expired during the public health emergency to remain valid until 30 days after the emergency is over. Providers who are licensed in other states but assisting here are allowed additional time to apply for a Wisconsin license under the terms of the order.