Wisconsin governor Tony Evers has extended the state's face mask mandate for a further two months amid rocketing cases of COVID-19.
Evers warned that the state was "facing a new and dangerous phase" of the pandemic, which follows "alarming" increases in case numbers particularly among young people, which has prompted a some colleges to impose quarantine restrictions on residence halls.
As he extended the mandate to Nov. 21, Evers' office noted that the case rate among 18-24 year olds is five times higher than any other age group, saying the spike has only happened over the last month and "appears to be driven by in-person social gatherings," with many of the worst-hit areas being University of Wisconsin towns.
Confirmed positive cases spiked to more than 2,500 on Friday, the highest in Wisconsin since the pandemic began.
Deaths remain relatively low, as has been the case in recent months as treatments have improved and case spread has mostly been among younger, healthier populations, but a spike in cases has the potential to put more vulnerable populations at risk.
There are currently just over 400 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wisconsin, significantly more than the 290 in Minnesota, albeit Wisconsin has slightly fewer people in intensive care. Hospitalizations have only broke the 400 mark one other time in Wisconsin since June 1.
With hospitalizations and deaths tending to lag by a few weeks, the spike has the potential to see a rise in more serious cases over the next month.
The concern about the rising positive case rate in Wisconsin comes on the same day that America registered its 200,000th death from the virus since it first arrived in January.
The New York Times' case tracker identifies 5 metropolitan areas in Wisconsin in the top 15 for the highest per capita COVID-19 case rate, with La Crosse – which has seen an outbreak at its college campus – 2nd overall with 73.2 daily cases per 100,000 people.
"We continue to learn more about this virus, but what we do know is that we are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin,” said Gov. Evers.
"We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially – please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together."
"We need to remember that most respiratory viruses see their peak activity in Wisconsin between late fall and early spring,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s Chief Medical Officer and the State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases.
"We need to do everything we can now to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for the winter. That is why we need to continue wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. It is also why we encourage everyone to get a flu shot this year; the flu shot cannot protect you from COVID-19, but by helping protect you from the flu, it helps strengthen our COVID-10 response here in Wisconsin by preserving hospital and testing capacity."