First COVID-19 deaths reported in Wisconsin, cases soar

March 20, 2020 GMT
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Early voters cast their ballots at the Zeidler Municipal Building Wednesday March 18, 2020, in Milwaukee. Wisconsin officials have not postponed the April 7 presidential primary because of the coronoavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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Early voters cast their ballots at the Zeidler Municipal Building Wednesday March 18, 2020, in Milwaukee. Wisconsin officials have not postponed the April 7 presidential primary because of the coronoavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two Wisconsin residents died from COVID-19, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday, the first to be reported in the state.

The news came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continued to grow and the outbreak reached inside a state prison for the first time.

Evers said the dead were two men, one in his 50s from Fond du Lac County and one in his 90s from Ozaukee County. No other information about the victims, including any underlying health conditions, was released.

“Our hearts go out to all the loved ones affected by these deaths, and to all those suffering from this virus,” Evers said. “We are committed to fighting the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and I want to recognize the hard work and bravery of our nurses, doctors, state health officials, and all those on the front lines in the effort to save lives. Together we will get through this historic health challenge.”

Wisconsin had 155 confirmed cases in 21 counties of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with community spread in at least four counties — Milwaukee, Dane, Brown and Kenosha. Community spread is when health officials can’t identify how or when a person caught the disease.

That was up from 106 cases in 14 counties the day before.

One of the latest confirmed cases was of a doctor at the Waupun Correctional Institute, a maximum security prison that houses more than 1,200 inmates.

Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Brian Foster sent an email Wednesday night informing employees that a worker had contracted the virus. The email was first obtained by The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the worker affected was a doctor who had recently traveled out of the country and that 18 inmates were quarantined and 11 prison medical workers were sent home. The positive case comes as advocates for prison inmates, both in Wisconsin and nationally, have been pushing for more measures to protect the incarcerated.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Also on Thursday, the number of absentee ballot requests for the April 7 presidential primary and spring election reached all-time highs.

As of Thursday morning, there were 315,429 absentee ballot requests successfully entered into the state system. That shattered the previous high for a spring election of 249,000 in 2016.

The deadline to register to vote absentee was Wednesday. Those who are registered can request a ballot until April 2, but the Elections Commission is urging people to act sooner rather than later given the surge.

“People who want to vote absentee need to act now,” said Reid Magney, spokesman for the commission.

Even as work continues for the April 7 election, the COVID-19 outbreak continued to disrupt nearly all aspects of normal operations in Wisconsin.

Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson temporarily suspended production at its three U.S. manufacturing plants after an employee at its suburban Milwaukee facility tested positive for the virus. The motorcycle maker suspended production at its Wisconsin plants in Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk, and at its facility in York, Pennsylvania.

Harley has about 2,000 union-represented employees at its three U.S. manufacturing plants.

Late Wednesday, Evers issued an executive order waiving work search requirements and modifying the availability requirements for unemployment insurance benefits to make it easier for those out of work because of the outbreak to qualify more quickly.

Also, the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s administrative committee voted Wednesday to cancel congressional district conventions and reduce the state convention from two to one day, June 12, and limit speeches and other business. It also voted to authorize its party chairman, Ben Wikler, to decide no later than May 1 whether to continue with the in-person meeting at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells or do it virtually.

The Wisconsin Republican Party scheduled its state convention for the weekend of May 15 in Green Bay. The party expects to make changes, said executive director Mark Jefferson, but none have been finalized.

The Democratic National Convention is slated for mid-July in Milwaukee. Party leaders have not announced any changes to that gathering.


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