MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin broke a record for confirmed new COVID-19 cases Tuesday for the fourth time in six days, as Gov. Tony Evers and state health leaders implored people to wear masks and take other steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The state Department of Health Services reported 964 new cases Tuesday, breaking a previous high of 926 cases on Saturday. Deaths increased by six to 826 on Tuesday. Of everyone tested, 6.5% were positive, continuing a generally upward trend in recent weeks.
“We need to get back to working together to flatten the curve so our health care system won’t become overwhelmed,” Evers said at a news conference. “The situation is still serious, folks.”
Andrea Palm, Wisconsin’s health secretary, and Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer for infectious disease, joined Evers in urging the wearing of face coverings to slow the spread of the virus. They also called for people to take other precautions such as staying at home, limiting trips, washing hands frequently, physically distancing from others and getting tested if they have symptoms or were around people who tested positive.
“These numbers are the result of significant community spread here in Wisconsin,” Palm said.
There is no statewide mask mandate and Evers said he is unlikely to propose one after the Wisconsin Supreme Court in May struck down his statewide safer-at-home order. That decision left it to individual communities to set their own restrictions.
A mask mandate for Dane County, including the state capital of Madison, took effect on Monday. A day later, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett signed a mask requirement for the city that takes effect on Thursday. Evers also has mandated the wearing of masks by executive branch state employees in state buildings.
Evers, a former state superintendent of schools, said he still anticipates that K-12 schools would open in September, despite the spike in cases that began in mid-June. But in order for schools to remain open for in-person teaching, people must take the necessary precautions to stem the spread of the virus, he said.
“I would be prepared to send your children to school,” Evers said.
Evers also largely discounted a proposal from Assembly Republicans to use federal aid to pay unemployment benefits to people as they await the processing of their state claims.
“I view it somewhat as a political stunt,” Evers said of the Republican proposal, noting that it still takes time to process the money and it’s risky to send it to people without first determining whether they qualify. Evers didn’t rule it out completely, saying that he was “looking at it.”
Wisconsin, like many states, is experiencing a backlog in processing unemployment claims. The state has added workers and expanded call center hours to try and speed up processing of the claims. As of Monday, more than 548,000 claims were still being processed in Wisconsin.
Evers also downplayed New York’s decision to add Wisconsin to its list of states from which visitors are required to be quarantined for 14 days upon entering New York. Evers said he doubted the move would hurt the state economically and noted that it was not practical to issue a similar restriction in Wisconsin on people coming in from New York.