Gov. Tony Evers pleaded with Wisconsin residents Tuesday to stay home and limit their interactions to immediate family amid new statewide daily records for confirmed coronavirus infections and related deaths.
The virus has been running rampant in Wisconsin since September. The state was fourth in the country in per capita cases over the last two weeks as of Monday, with 840 cases per 100,000 people. The governor asked residents to voluntarily shelter in place, limit their interactions to a total of five people, and get takeout or delivery rather than eating at restaurants.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Evers said during a teleconference with reporters. “We are facing an urgent crisis and there is an imminent risk to you, your family members, your friends, your neighbors and the people you care about."
The governor's call is merely a recommendation. He issued a formal stay-at-home order in March when the pandemic began but the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court struck it down two months later.
“If people stay at home, we can call it whatever," Evers said of his recommendation. "I call it saving lives.”
State health officials reported 5,262 newly confirmed cases on Tuesday, easily shattering the daily record of 4,591 set on Oct. 20. They also reported the virus was a factor in an additional 64 deaths, breaking the old daily record of 48 deaths set on Oct. 21. The state has now seen a total of 206,311 cases and 1,852 deaths.
Since his formal stay-at-home order was erased in May, Evers has issued statewide limits on the size of indoor public gatherings and a statewide mask mandate. A state appellate court blocked the gathering restrictions last week and conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is challenging the mask mandate in a separate case.
As he has for months, Evers criticized what he called a lack of consistent messaging from Republicans and President Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge the virus' threat. GOP leaders are eroding empathy by encouraging people to do what they want rather than abide by precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, he said.
“I see that the White House has given up on this issue and they're focusing on things that are down the road,” Evers said. “Well, ‘down-the-road’ is allowing a lot of people to pass away.”
Wisconsin is expected to be a pivotal battleground state in the Nov. 3 election after Trump won it by less than 23,000 votes in 2016. Evers made his remarks during a teleconference with reporters only hours before Trump was set to appear at a campaign rally in West Salem.
Andrew Hitt, chairman of the state Republican Party, countered in an email to The Associated Press that Trump's push for a vaccine will return the country to normal and Joe Biden and Evers' lockdown policies will “do irreparable harm to our economy.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Ryan Westergaard appeared on the teleconference with Evers and stressed that officials are not inflating the number of coronavirus deaths. He said the state collects death numbers from local clinicians or medical examiners who have decided there's evidence a death was due mainly or in part to the virus.
“We rely on trained medical professionals and medical examiners to make that determination,” Westergaard said.
He called the virus' trajectory in Wisconsin “a nightmare scenario, frankly, that this could get quite a bit worse in the next several weeks or months before it gets better.”