Gov. Tony Evers announced efforts to supply schools, food processors and businesses in the state with personal protective equipment as the number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin continues to grow.
The PPE package includes more than 2 million cloth face masks and thousands of infrared thermometers that will be sent to public and private schools.
“Schools across our state are preparing to reopen safely for our kids, educators, and staff, so these efforts now are critically important to ensure they have the resources and supplies they need to keep folks safe,” Evers said.
This comes as COVID-19 cases reach 32,556 in Wisconsin and the rate of positive testing continues to rise over a two-week average.
Evers said Tuesday he would have considered implementing measures like a broad face mask requirement to prevent further spread of the virus if he had the power to do so.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that the [Wisconsin] Supreme Court ruling in the Republican lawsuit really hamstrung our ability to respond to this pandemic,” Evers said. “We really don’t know if I have the authority to do that.”
As cases surge in states like Arizona, state epidemiologist Dr. Ryan Westergaard said Wisconsin is on a similar trajectory, but is not in quite as dire of a situation.
“Arizona and Florida have been having many thousands [of new cases] per day, so it’s a different situation in terms of the magnitude, but we’re going similarly in the wrong direction,” said Westergaard, “meaning there’s more cases this week by far than there were the week before and the week before that.”
“It is an opportunity for us to heed the caution,” said health secretary Andrea Palm, “to not get to the place where we are seeing an incline in our infections to the point where our hospitals cannot sustain the level of care that is needed.”
Evers said Tuesday he supports local measures to implement mask wearing requirements, and decried recent criticisms and harassment of local public health workers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the public health employees of Washington and Ozaukee counties received online and in-person harassment from coronavirus skeptics.
“Local health officers are doing their damnedest to do the right thing and hearing stories of them being harassed personally, professionally, it saddens me,” Evers said.
“The virus here is the bad guy,” Palm reiterated.
Evers also touched on new guidance from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that international students who are not enrolled in in-person classes would not be able to stay in the country on educational visas.
“To suggest that they won’t have the opportunity to participate in education just because they’re not there physically 100% of the time–I think that’s a huge mistake,” Evers said.
UW System campuses are planning to have students return to campuses for some in-person instruction, according to guidance released by the UW Board of Regents last month.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement Tuesday calling the ICE guidance on international students confusing and said she would “continue to support and advocate for them.”