MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Tony Evers begged people Tuesday to skip Thanksgiving celebrations with anyone from outside their households as Wisconsin set a new record for COVID-19 deaths.
Evers and state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm held a news conference Tuesday to plead with people to skip Thanksgiving gatherings with anyone they don’t live with to avoid spreading the disease. and creating a post-holiday surge of cases that could swamp hospitals. Both said they plan to spend the holiday weekend with only their spouses; Evers said he will not see his grandchildren this holiday.
“If you’re planning to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, we urge you to seriously reconsider. We all must make short-terms sacrifices for our long-term health,” Evers said. “As you consider your options for Thursday, please make the hard choices.”
The DHS reported Tuesday that the disease was a factor in another 104 deaths, a new daily record. The old record was 92 deaths, set on Nov. 17. The death toll now stands at 3,115.
The department reported another 6,202 confirmed infections; the state has now seen 363,973 cases since the pandemic began in March.
Infection rates have been trending downward a bit since last week, however. The seven-day average of positive tests was 28.7% as of Monday, down from 36.5% last week. The number of people hospitalized has been dropping every day since the state hit a record high of 2,277 patients on Nov. 17, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. As of Tuesday afternoon 1,986 people were hospitalized, down 13 patients from Monday.
Wisconsin still ranks sixth in the country for new cases per capita, though, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Palm said people will likely have to avoid Christmas gatherings with anyone outside their home as well. The state has “considerable work” to do to slow the disease before people can start thinking about gatherings again, she said.
Both Evers and Palm recommended people seek counseling to deal with holiday depression.
“It’s ok to ask for help,” the governor said. “In fact, it’s more than OK.”
In other COVID-19 developments Tuesday:
- Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that Wisconsin nursing homes have seen a spike in COVID-19 related deaths. Homes reported 294 residents had died of the virus between Oct. 12 and Nov. 8. The number of deaths is 10 times higher than the 28 deaths reported in the previous month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. In the latest four-week period, Wisconsin nursing homes reported 2,130 residents with new COVID-19 cases, up from 387 new cases in the preceding four-week period.
- Evers said his staff met with Republican legislative leaders’ staff on Tuesday to continue discussions on a potential COVID-19 relief package. He declined to comment on the possibility that anything tangible will emerge from the discussions.
- Palm said she hasn’t been told how many initial vaccine doses the state might receive but DHS will prioritize who gets them according to federal recommendations. The department released a document in October stating first doses will likely go to health care workers, nursing home residents and essential workers as defined by federal and state advisory committees.
- Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s epidemiologist, downplayed the declining positivity rates Wisconsin has seen over the last week, saying the decline isn’t significant. Data indicates infections may be plateauing but the number of cases remains “critically high,” he said.
- Evers defended the state Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to promote deer hunting during the state’s traditional nine-day gun season, which opened Saturday even though his administration has been warning people for months that it’s not safe to leave their homes. The governor said deer hunting offers an opportunity to get fresh air and doesn’t present a danger as long as people keep their hunting parties to their immediate family and avoid large gatherings at cabins.
- The state Supreme Court will not decide whether to block Dane County’s ban on indoor gatherings and indoor sports before Thanksgiving. A gymnasium and two parents filed a lawsuit directly with the high court on Monday arguing the ban is unconstitutional and will inflict mental trauma on families looking to gather for the holiday and young athletes who miss their sports. They had asked the court for an immediate injunction blocking the ban. But the court on Tuesday gave Dane County attorneys until Nov. 27 to file briefs arguing why the court should not take the case, indicating no ruling will come before then.
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