What Gov. Evers’ declaration of a public health emergency means
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency as the coronavirus – or COVID-19 – pandemic continues to spread in Wisconsin.
As of Thursday, March 12, the Department of Health Services announced two additional cases of the virus. The most recent cases are in Dane County. The people in the new cases had been exposed to a previously reported case in Dane County and are now in isolation. There are now seven active cases in Wisconsin.
“I want to assure everyone that those affected are receiving the best possible care,” Evers said at a news conference Thursday. “And that all steps are being taken to stop the spread of this virus.”
The public health emergency declaration does three main actions. First, it directs DHS to use all the resources necessary to combat and contain the outbreak of the virus. That means the department will purchase, store and distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance coverage, to respond to the emergency.
Secondly, it authorizes state funding to support local health departments with costs tied to isolation and quarantine.
Lastly, the executive order activates the Wisconsin National Guard to assist in whatever the state or local communities need in order to address the issue.
“We’re at a moment,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “We have an inflection point now to lean in, to do some of these things in an aggressive way in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” The department issued new guidance on best practices, travel and public gatherings. You can read about those here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/disease/covid-19.htm
Guidance for public gatherings
A new guidance is the cancellation of public events that include 250 or more people. Palm was asked why the state has not called for the closing of public schools, which may have 250 or more people between students and staff.
“The ways that schools can remain open and will remain open using tools and tactics so that they can do the essential functions that they need to do which is to teach our kids,” Palm said. “And also employ some tactics to improve the social distancing things that we talked about.”
Testing for the virus
In order to best respond and contain the virus, DHS said it is ramping up efforts to increase testing.
“We are at a place where […] our throughput has not maxed out our capacity,” Palm said. “I do anticipate that being the case fairly soon but again we are in close contact and are asking for a refresh of our supplies for tests so that we can continue to be aggressive about testing for as long we need to.”
Currently, there are two labs – one in Milwaukee and one in Madison – that are testing for the virus. As Palm said, supplies for testing is needed as it’s expected that more people will need to be tested and the labs will have an influx of samples.
“As we track carefully the throughput of the system we need to make sure that the [tested samples] can get into the test before those samples expire and so that’s the balance that we’re striking.”
Officials said that the Wisconsin National Guard will assist in helping 37 Wisconsin residents return home from a Grand Princess Cruise that has docked in California and has passengers on board that have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials say none of the Wisconsin residents are displaying symptoms at this time.
Those residents will fly to Wisconsin where DHS officials and members of the National Guard will meet them and drive them to their homes. At their homes, they will self-isolate. Gov. Evers said it’s not necessary to quarantine them on a military base.
“We don’t believe that Wisconsinites should be put in a position of having to be quarantined in the military,” Evers said. “We have the opportunity to bring them home and we should be doing that.”
Evers added, “They’ve been gone for a long time, it’s time to bring them home.”