MADISON, Wis. — It took Wisconsin seven months to log 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. It took only 36 more days to double that number. On Friday — a mere 18 days later — the state blew past 300,000 cases, breaking a record daily high set just a day earlier.
There were 7,777 new cases reported by the state Department of Health Services on Friday, breaking Thursday's record by 280 and pushing the state's overall total since the pandemic started to 301,165. Wisconsin has also had 2,573 COVID-19 deaths, and many of the state's overwhelmed hospitals reported that they were at or nearing capacity.
The number of cases is growing exponentially in Wisconsin. It took seven months to log 100,000 confirmed cases, 36 more days to reach 200,000, and only 18 days to get to 300,000, the state health department reported.
The pleas for people to act responsibly and wear masks, socially distance and avoid large gatherings have been increasing as the cases mount and hospitals become stressed beyond capacity. Gov. Tony Evers this week urged people to stay at home and take other steps to be safe, as did leaders of the Wisconsin Hospital Association and Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state's chief medical officer. He warned this week that Wisconsin was reaching a “tipping point” where hospitals soon would not be able to adequately treat people.
Amid the rising calls for action — just days after the election — Republicans who have fought Evers over his past attempts to curb the spread of the virus seemed to be softening their tone.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in his newsletter to constituents, on Thursday urged them to wear masks, avoid gatherings and follow other recommendations to fight the virus. Vos sued Evers to overturn his “safer at home” order in May and he opposes the statewide mask mandate that's been in effect since August, arguing that it's unconstitutional. The Wisconsin Supreme Court was to hear arguments in that case on Monday.
“I agree with Governor Evers that our success in fighting the virus rests on individual responsibility,” Vos said in the newsletter. “Once again, I encourage everyone to adhere to CDC guidelines: wear a mask, socially distance, frequently wash your hands, follow local restrictions and stay home as much as possible,” he wrote, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another Republican, state Sen. Rob Cowles, also issued a plea this week for people to take the virus seriously, nine months into the pandemic.
“I agree that we need to work together to control the spread of COVID-19 to get our economy back on track," Cowles said in reaction to Evers' call for unity made during a prime time speech this week. “As a community member, I am concerned for my neighbors, friends and family, and our local businesses, some of which may have closed their doors for good. The unfortunate reality is that our lives have been disrupted in ways that were inconceivable at the beginning of the year.”
Evers said he was preparing to release a package of coronavirus-related bills as soon as next week for the GOP-controlled Legislature to consider. Lawmakers have not met since April, despite repeated calls from Evers and Democrats to be more aggressive in fighting the virus.
Amid the surge, an increasing number of universities in the state are telling students heading home for Thanksgiving not to return to campus for the rest of the semester.
Three University of Wisconsin System schools, Eau Claire, Stout and River Falls, are the latest schools to switch to online-only instruction through the holidays. Students will take final exams remotely and return to campus for the spring semester, as it stands.
UW-Madison and a number of private schools, including Marquette, St. Norbert and Carroll, have already made similar plans, the Journal Sentinel reported.
University leaders are concerned that students heading home will expose themselves to people they haven’t been around for weeks or months, and then return to campus, potentially bringing the virus with them.