The COVID-19 situation in Wisconsin has gotten so dire that public health officials have added a new category to the state's disease activity dashboard and public health officials have said it's worse than what New York City saw in the spring.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) added a "critically high" category to its dashboard on Wednesday in hopes of giving residents a better picture of the situation in the state, a news release says. This category is nearly three times higher than the "very high" category.
The state of Wisconsin and 65 counties are listed at "critically high" as of Wednesday, which represents places where there are more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents.
“Far too many of our communities are in a dire situation,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said in a statement. “To put these new data in perspective, Wisconsin is now seeing more average cases per day than New York City did at the peak of its surge last spring."
New York City in mid-April was seeing an average of more than 5,000 new cases per day – and that's when testing and antibody studies weren't widely available. Meanwhile, 33,500 NYC residents died between March 11 and May 11 of this year, the New York Times reports, noting a new study found the death rates rivaled those seen during the 1918 Flu – the deadliest pandemic the U.S. has ever seen.
Wisconsin's seven-day average as of Wednesday was 5,984 cases – higher than NYC's average in mid-April – and marks an all-time high for the state and one of the highest in the country, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
According to this New York Times graphic, over the last 14 days, Wisconsin is No. 4 based on daily cases per capita, behind North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Minnesota ranks No. 8.
On Wednesday, DHS reported 7,048 more COVID-19 cases in the state, marking the third time in five days that cases topped 7,000. In total, 285,891 people have tested positive for the virus in Wisconsin.
Health officials also reported an additional 62 deaths Wednesday, bringing the death total to 2,457.
"Because of these critically high levels of disease, public health can no longer adequately contact trace, hospital beds are filled with patients with COVID-19, and too many Wisconsin families are losing loved ones to this virus," Van Dijk added. "By helping people see the critically high level of disease in their counties and regions, we hope these data enhancements will help people make important decisions to stay home in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
In hopes of encouraging people to stay home amid the surge in cases, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed Executive Order 94 this week that outlines steps people can take to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, maintaining a six-foot distance from people outside of their household, avoiding gatherings, covering coughs, washing hands and staying home if you're sick.
He also "strongly" encourages businesses to require masks, limit people who go into the business to work, increase cleaning and adopt measures in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reopening guidelines, among other measures, the order says.
In his order, Evers says data show that if no further actions are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, 5,000 Wisconsinites could die by Jan. 1.
Wisconsin Republicans who control the state's legislature have fought Democrat Gov. Evers' previous efforts to mandate some of the basic public health measures people can take to stop the spread of the virus, filing lawsuits and sometimes prevailing.
In an announcement Tuesday, Evers said he will be introducing new COVID-19 response legislation that would provide additional support for residents. It's unclear where this will go, though, seeing as Evers and the Legislature don't agree on steps to curb the spread of the virus, with KARE 11 noting the Legislature hasn't met since April.