By Shereen Siewert

State officials say they will expand guidelines to allow more tests for COVID-19, as testing capacity increased to 3,756 per day at the state’s 20 active labs.

Under current guidelines tests are prioritized and are only being processed for the top two tiers of patients, leading to significant gaps in definitive data about the number of positive cases statewide.

“We are not testing everybody who has symptoms or everybody who might be infected,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm “We’ve tested the tip of the iceberg.”

As of Friday, Wisconsin is reporting 3,068 confirmed cases statewide, an increase of 183 since Thursday. The death toll climbed from 111 to 128 on Friday, including one in Brown County.

Hospitalizations also increased to 904, about 29 percent of all patients who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In Marathon County, the number of cases remains at 12, while the number of negative tests rose slightly to 348. Health officials have not said how many tests are pending or how many people statewide have recovered.

Meanwhile, dozens of hospitals around the state are seven days or less from running out of critical personal protective equipment. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reports that out of 133 hospitals, 62 will run out of face shields, while 73 will run out of goggles, 49 will run out of N95 masks and 67 will run out of gowns by this time next week.

Gov. Tony Evers, in a press briefing Friday, said he hopes state lawmakers will reach a bipartisan solution to help struggling businesses and individuals when they meet next week.

During the briefing Palm addressed rumors that the governor’s Safer at Home order could stretch on for six months or more, saying the order is one of a variety of tools being used to actively manage the outbreak.

“I certainly have not put a specific time frame on when we’d pull back from Safer at Home,” Palm said. “We are following the data very closely.”

Evers said the number of patients who need COVID-19 treatment is expected to surge in the coming weeks. In response, state officials are seeking volunteers to support Wisconsin’s healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Active and retired healthcare professionals and those who wish to help in non-clinical support positions are encouraged to sign up to volunteer through the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry (WEAVR).

“We are creating a wide network of volunteers to increase capacity at hospitals and clinics across Wisconsin,” said Gov. Evers. “Our top priority is to make sure there are enough resources to care for the growing number of people who require hospitalization or other healthcare interventions because of this pandemic.”

Both active and retired healthcare professionals can volunteer for critical clinical roles by entering their information into the WEAVR, a secure, password-protected, web-based volunteer registration system for healthcare and behavioral health professionals. Individuals who are not licensed professionals are also encouraged to sign up to volunteer for non-clinical support positions.

Volunteers will be assigned to locations across Wisconsin to support ongoing efforts related to the COVID-19 national emergency. Those who are willing to travel should note that when they sign up. All volunteers should also be aware that they will be required to complete a background check.

In other developments:

  • DHS officials announced more than 215,000 FoodShare households in Wisconsin will be receiving additional benefits. Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Wisconsin can provide FoodShare recipients with the maximum monthly benefit amount, based on the number of people in their household, for two months. For March and April, FoodShare households not currently receiving the maximum monthly benefit amount for their family size will receive additional benefits bringing them up to that level. The additional March benefits will be available on QUEST cards on April 12, and the additional April benefits will be available on QUEST cards on April 26. If the COVID-19 emergency extends beyond April, DHS will work with its federal partners on any future opportunities to provide additional emergency allotments.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers is engaged and has begun mobilizing at the expo center at the Wisconsin State Fair Park to increase hospital bed capacity, Evers said Friday.
  • Health officials announced new tracing mechanisms for local health departments to better track Wisconsin residents who may have been exposed to COVID-19 during Tuesday’s election. Over the course of the last few weeks, DHS added more than 120 contact tracers to aid local public health departments who need additional capacity to interview every person confirmed with COVID-19 about anyone they had been in contact with and notify those people.