Updated Wednesday at 10:49 a.m. CT
Gov. Tony Evers issued an advisory Tuesday recommending people stay home and businesses allow employees to work remotely as the coronavirus surges unchecked across Wisconsin, saying projections show the death toll could double in a matter of months.
The Democratic governor announced the advisory during an unusual evening address on the same day the state broke daily records for infections and deaths.
Evers has sounded the same themes for months during twice-weekly news conferences to little avail. He warned in his speech that deaths could double to 5,000 by January if something doesn't change.
“So, I want to be clear tonight: Each day this virus goes unchecked is a setback for our economic recovery,” Evers said. “Our bars, restaurants, small businesses, families, and farmers will continue to suffer if we don’t take action right now — our economy cannot bounce back until we contain this virus.”
Evers says it took seven and a half months for Wisconsin to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases. Since then, they have skyrocketed.
“It only took 36 days to add another 100,000. The way things are going, it will take us only 20 days to reach another 100,000,” Evers said. “We’ve now surpassed in deaths the number of lives we projected we would have saved months ago if we would have been able to keep safer-at-home and reopened safely.”
Evers' administration has made no headway against the virus due largely to opposition from Republicans and their conservative allies. The governor issued a stay-at-home order in March but the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck the mandate down in May following a challenge from Republican lawmakers. A state appeals court last month blocked Evers' order limiting gatherings in bars, restaurants and other places. And the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday on the latest legal challenge to Evers' statewide mask mandate, which remains in effect.
The governor issued the stay-at-home advisory in the form of an executive order but it carries no weight in light of the Supreme Court decision in May. The advisory states that the governor recommends staying at home and businesses should let employees work remotely. The advisory goes on to recommend that people avoid gathering with anyone from outside their home, maintain social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
Evers also promised during his speech to present a package of legislation addressing the virus. He did not say what measures the bills would enact. Republicans control the Legislature but hasn't met since April, when it passed a coronavirus aid package. Pressure has been building for the GOP to act but so far Republican leaders haven't signaled they plan to do anything.
“But now, as we put the election behind us, we are called upon to remember the things that unite us — and that includes the struggles that we share,” Evers said in his speech. “I am concerned about what our current trajectory means for Wisconsin healthcare workers, families, and our economy if we don’t get this virus under control.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a record 7,073 new confirmed infections Tuesday. That breaks the old record of 7,065 cases set Saturday. There were 66 new deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, breaking the old record of 64 set on Oct. 27.
The state has now seen 278,843 infections and 2,395 deaths since the pandemic began in March. Wisconsin was fourth in the nation in per capita infections over the last two weeks at 74,452 cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. North Dakota was first, followed by South Dakota and Iowa.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported that 2,070 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, a new record. The state has set a new record for daily hospitalizations every day since Nov. 2.