Wisconsin Hospital Association

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The only way to stop the coronavirus pandemic from getting even worse in Wisconsin is to “triple down,” individually and collectively, on public health measures, the state’s business leaders learned in a bleak update Wednesday.

Wisconsin once again set records for new daily positive cases, deaths and hospitalizations on Tuesday. The surge, which began in September, came as the U.S. hit a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations Tuesday and surpassed 1 million new confirmed cases in just the first 10 days of November.

“We really know what works, we just need to do it and we all need to do it,” said Dr. Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Hospital Association, at a virtual meeting of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. “We can flatten the curve, but right now that’s the only way we will flatten the curve.”

That means wearing masks, keeping a social distance, avoiding gathering particularly indoors, and frequently washing hands, Kaufman said. His message, which public health leaders have been making since the pandemic began nine months ago, was also echoed by Gov. Tony Evers in an unusual prime-time speech Tuesday urging Wisconsin residents to work together to fight the virus.

“We need to triple down on following public health measures we know will work and if we do that, we will slow the pandemic,” Kaufman said. “And if we don’t do that, it will continue to get worse.”

Kaufman described hospitals struggling as they reach capacity without adequate staffing. The state has set a new record for daily hospitalizations every day since Nov. 2, hitting 2,070 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals on Tuesday.

Wisconsin is doing much worse than its peers and is not flattening the curve, Kaufman said. He blamed that on a variety of factors.

“Inconsistent messaging from leaders across the spectrum has really been a major root cause for why we are doing poorly,” Kaufman said.

He also blamed COVID fatigue, the politicization of mask wearing, misinformation on social media, the return of students to classrooms and college campuses, not following public health guidelines and people spending more time indoors because of cold weather.

Evers’ attempts to curtail the virus in Wisconsin have been met with resistance from Republicans and the state’s business community. His “safer at home” order issued in March was challenged by Republican lawmakers and ultimately struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. His statewide mask mandate, in place since August, is being fought by lawmakers and a conservative law firm. The state Supreme Court scheduled arguments on that Monday.

A state appeals court last week struck down Evers’ attempt to limit how many people can gather at bars, restaurants and other places indoors. That was initially fought by the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature have also not agreed on what steps to take to tackle the virus. The Legislature has not met since April and Evers and GOP leaders rarely talk. Evers said Tuesday that he planned to introduce a package of legislation to address the virus, but did not detail what they would include.

Despite the worsening situation, Kaufman expressed hope about the availability of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year. However, he cautioned that it will take months before a vaccine is widely available.