Coronavirus: Black Milwaukeeans Are Disproportionately Affected. Officials Want To Know Why

Mar 23, 2020

WUWM is providing updates about the coronavirus and COVID-19 in Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area. Find the most recent news and information here.

Wisconsin and Milwaukee by the numbers, according to state Department of Health Services (unless otherwise noted):

  • 7 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Six people lived in the state, one person was visiting. The state's official count is six deaths.
  • Wisconsin has at least 585 confirmed cases.
  • Milwaukee County has 325 confirmed cases, 254 of those cases are in the city of Milwaukee. This is according to reports from the county.

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March 25, 6:04 p.m.: African Americans Are Disproportionately Affected By Coronavirus In Milwaukee. Officials Are Investigating Why

Milwaukee officials are trying to determine why COVID-19 cases are clustered among African Americans on the city’s north side. Of the city’s 254 confirmed cases, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik says more than half are African Americans.

“We want to understand is that due to comorbidities? Is that due to where people congregate or some event?” Kowalik said during a videoconference press briefing Wednesday afternoon.

Four deaths due to coronavirus have been reported in Milwaukee County. The first three were all black men in their 50s or 60s. Kowalik said Wednesday evening that details about the fourth fatality were not yet available.

Kowalik says the health department is conducting an epidemiological investigation to determine why the virus has spread more widely among black people in Milwaukee. The department is also working on a public information campaign, which Kowalik said will include outreach to faith leaders in the black community and social media messages to reach younger people.

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, is one of the people diagnosed with COVID-19. During the Wednesday briefing, he said he likely contracted the virus from a Shorewood elected official and is “going through symptoms that are very intense,” including body aches, chills, fever, and a cough.

“I think there are a number of people in our community that are not taking this as seriously as they should,” Bowen said. “It’s very important they heed calls to stay home.”

To suppress the spread of the virus, Gov. Tony Evers issued a safer-at-home order asking people to practice social distancing and closing businesses deemed nonessential.

-Emily Files

March 25, 3:48 p.m.: No Date Set For When Wisconsin Legislature Will Reconvene To Deal With Coronavirus

Wisconsin's Republican legislative leaders say they want to take a deep look at the $2 trillion federal stimulus package before taking any action in the Legislature in response to the coronavirus.

“Before we do anything in our state, we need to understand the full consequences of what help is coming from Washington: How it’s accessed. What law needs to be changed to access federal dollars,” said House Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday in a media teleconference.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald echoes Vos’ sentiments, adding, “We need to figure out when it would be appropriate to bring the full Legislature back together.”

Both Republican legislators expressed their support for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' decision to move forward with the April 7 election. The two are skeptical of having an election where constituents would mail in their votes instead of physicallly going to the polls.

“We are way too far in with early voting, starting on March 12, to suddenly make that proclamation that that will be the only way to vote on April 7," said Fitzgerald.

-Angelina Mosher Salazar

March 25, 3:09 p.m.: Wisconsin Extends Online Voter Registration Until March 30

Online voter registration in Wisconsin is now open until March 30 in response to the increasing number of people trying to vote absentee for the April 7 election.

Last Friday, a federal judge ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to extend online voter registration amid the coronavirus crisis. The original deadline was March 18.

Those who want to vote absentee have until April 2 to request an absentee ballot, but election officials are asking residents to make their requests sooner because demand has skyrocketed.

“We strongly urge anyone who wishes to vote in the April 7 election to take action now online,” Wisconsin chief elections official Meagan Wolfe said in a statement. “Anyone who isn’t currently registered and wants to vote absentee for April 7 must act immediately.”

-Emily Files

March 25, 2:05 p.m.: Wisconsin Companies Accused Of Price Gouging

Limes, toilet paper, cookies, bleach, watermelon, surgical masks and pinto beans are among the items that 16 companies in Wisconsin have been accused of price gouging.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said Wednesday that it has sent the letters to companies including Menards, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware. A letter also went to for allegedly price gouging for N95 masks, which are in short supply and critical for health care workers dealing with COVID-19 patients.

The consumer protection agency said it received dozens of complaints at over a hundred stores across the state. Consumers can report companies suspected of price gouging on the agency’s website or submit a complaint by email.

-Associated Press

March 25, 8:58 a.m.: Green Bay Sues To Delay April 7 Election

The City of Green Bay has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tony Evers and other state officials to delay the April 7 spring election and move voting to mailed ballots due to concerns about spreading the new coronavirus.

WLUK-TV reports the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court asks a judge to order state officials to mail ballots to all registered voters. It also asks the judge to extend the deadline for voter registration to May 1 and give local clerks a June 2 deadline for counting mailed ballots.

Gov. Evers has said he would not move the election and has encouraged voters to request absentee ballots online.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party asked a federal judge in Madison to extend absentee voting.

-Associated Press

March 24, 4:20 p.m.: Without Protective Measures, Wisconsin Could See More Than 20,000 Coronavirus Cases By April 8

Comparing data from Wisconsin to that of Wuhan and Italy, experts say that Wisconsin needs to flatten the curve to prevent the crisis seen abroad.

Experts predict that based on Wisconsin's current path — before implementing Gov. Tony Evers' safer-at-home practices — 22,000 Wisconsinites could test positive for COVID-19 by April 8, Department of Human Services Secretary Designee Andrea Palm said during a call on Tuesday.

In addition, there could be “an estimated 440 to 1,500 deaths. This means thousands of Wisconsinites would need hospitalization, and we would exceed our current hospital bed capacity,” says Palm.

Evers' safer-at-home order starts Wednesday, and is in effect until April 24. During that time, Palm encourages people to limit the number of individuals they're around. She advises that you see no more than five individuals.

If people are feeling lonely or stressed while the safer-at-home order is in effect, people can call the state hotline at 1-800-985-5990 to speak with crisis counselor or text “Talk with us” to 66747.

-Olivia Richardson

March 24, 1:15 p.m.: Playgrounds In Milwaukee Parks Close

The Milwaukee Department of Public Works announced Tuesday that playgrounds in city parks are now closed. While the playgrounds are closed, the parks remain open.

-Lauren Sigfusson

March 24, 12:04 p.m.: Barrett Urges Wisconsin Officials To Conduct April Election By Mail

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is urging Wisconsin representatives and the governor to modify election procedures for the April 7 primary and conduct the process through mail ballots.

In a letter to Rep. Robin Vos, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gov. Tony Evers, Barrett says he initially supported their desires to hold the spring primaries as usual. But with the consistency of increased positive cases of COVID-19 in the city of Milwaukee and across the state, he says neither in-person absentee voting nor in-person voting is feasible.

In addition, Barrett says the Milwaukee Election Commission is having trouble maintaining daily staff to operate the three in-person absentee or “early” voting locations, including staff supervisors and chief inspectors. He says he’s heard from Neil Albrecht, the commission’s executive director, that staffing has become more complicated because of the stay at home orders from the governor.

He says leaders should focus energy on retaining and attracting people to handle absentee ballots.

Groups like the League of Women Voters, the African American RoundTable, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a host of others, are also calling for all Wisconsinites to request absentee ballots.

Last week, the groups sent a letter to the governor, state Legislature, and Wisconsin Elections Commission calling for increased opportunities for every person in the state to cast an absentee ballot.

Barrett recognizes that a ballot by mail election has its challenges — it’ll take more time and couldn’t be completed by April 7. He’s asking for photo ID requirements to be waived and accommodations for witness requirements to be made as well.

“We could see as many as 130,000 absentee ballots cast in Milwaukee, compared to 62,000 in the 2016 presidential election. We need a significantly longer processing period that begins prior to any election date," Barrett says.

-Teran Powell

March 24, 11:24 a.m.: Evers Officially Issues Safer-At-Home Order For Wisconsin, Ordering Closure Of Nonessential Businesses For Next Month

Gov. Tony Evers issued what he calls a safer-at-home order on Tuesday.

Basically, it says people should only leave their homes to perform essential jobs or to meet essential needs, such as shopping for food or medicine. It goes into effect at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and will remain in effect until 8 a.m. on April 24.

Under the order, bars and restaurants may continue to operate, offering only carry-out and deliveries. According to a press release, businesses that are allowed to operate under his safer-at-home order include:

  • Health care operations, including home health workers
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable individuals
  • Fresh and non-perishable food retailers, including convenience stores, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food banks
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food and goods directly to residences
  • Pharmacies, health care supply stores and health care facilities
  • Child care facilities, with some limitations
  • Gas stations and auto repair facilities
  • Banks
  • Laundry businesses, dry cleaners and services necessary for maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operation of a residence, including garbage collection
  • Hardware stores, plumbers, and electricians
  • Educational institutions, for the purposes of facilitating distance learning
  • Roles required for any business to maintain minimum basic operations, which includes security, and payroll
  • Law and safety, and essential government functions

Read more about the safer-at-home order.

-Lauren Sigfusson

March 23, 6:19 p.m.: Summerfest Postponed To September

Summerfest announced Monday that it is pushing back its 2020 events due to the coronavirus pandemic. The music festival was originally scheduled for June 24-28, June 30-July 5. The new dates are Sept. 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19.

-Lauren Sigfusson

March 23, 5:28 p.m.: Donations Needed For First Responders, Milwaukee Health Official Urges People To Dial 911 Only When 'Absolutely Necessary'

Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, is worried about the region's first responders — police, firefighters and paramedics. Not only are they putting their lives on the line, but they must also worry about the possibility of exposing their own families and friends to COVID-19. 

But the community can help. First, by staying at home if possible. Weston also says it would be helpful if people only called 911 when "absolutely necessary." 

Another way the public can help is by donating much-needed items to protect first responders. The following items are needed (regardless of quantity or expiration date):

  • N95 masks
  • Dust masks or surgical masks
  • Safety glasses
  • Protective gowns or suites
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes or sprays
  • Disposable medical gloves

Starting Tuesday, donations can be made at the Wisconsin State Fair Expo Center Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you're making donations, they ask that you please enter through gate 5, which is located at the intersection of S. 84th Street and W. Schlinger Avenue in West Allis.

Donations will be accepted at the gate, so you don't need to get out of your vehicle. You can find more information about donating here.

-Susan Bence

March 23, 2:13 p.m.: YMCA In Milwaukee Opens Emergency Child Care Programs For Health Care Workers & First Responders

The YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee is opening two emergency child care programs this week specifically for health care workers and first responders amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The initiative is starting with locations at the Rite-Hite Family YMCA in Brown Deer and the Advocate Aurora Conference Center in Milwaukee, but the program could expand beyond those two facilities. According to the YMCA, additional safety precautions will be taken to keep children and workers safe, including screening every person who enters with a temperature check. The centers will comply with Gov. Tony Evers’ directive to limit child care operations to no more than 50 children and no more than 10 staff.

The childcare facility at Advocate Aurora opens March 24 and the location at the Rite-Hite YMCA opens April 25. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Children ages 4-13 are welcome. The cost is $70 per day. Hours, ages served, and locations may be changed depending on demand. 

-Emily Files

March 23, 10:53 a.m.: Evers To Order Wisconsinites To Stay Home

Read more up-to-date information about Evers' safer-at-home order.

Gov. Tony Evers tweeted Monday that he's going to order Wisconsinites to stay at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The order will be issued on Tuesday.

This comes three days after he said he didn’t think he would need to implement a shelter-in-place order like Illinois, New York and California have done. 

All of the information on Evers' order hasn’t been released. Based on Evers' tweets, here’s what we know the safer-at-home order entails:

  • Only take necessary trips, and limit travel to essential needs (going to doctor, grocery shopping, getting prescriptions).
  • Workers who provide essential care or services will still be allowed to travel to and from work. Those workers include health care professionals, grocers, and family caregivers.
  • If you must go outside, stay 6 feet away from others and shared spaces (park shelters, visitor centers).

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the stay-at-home order for Milwaukee is going into effect before the state but it aligns with the state order. He says the city order is being issued Monday and is slated to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. He adds that 75% of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, cases are in the city of Milwaukee — most are seen in the northern part of the city. 

-Lauren Sigfusson, Teran Powell, Susan Bence

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.