Updated Friday 9:02 p.m. CST
Wisconsin health officials reported more jaw-dropping COVID-19 infection numbers Thursday as people continued to flaunt recommendations to wear masks and avoid gatherings and state government remained gridlocked on how to beat the pandemic.
The state Department of Health Services reported a record 7,497 new confirmed cases on Thursday, shattering the old record of 7,065 set just five days ago on Saturday. The department reported the disease was a factor in 58 more deaths. The state has now seen 293,388 infections and 2,515 deaths.
During a media update Thursday, state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the seven-day average for new cases is now 6,200. That's about 1,000 cases more than what New York City experienced at its peak in April, she pointed out.
"COVID-19 is everywhere in our state. It is bad everywhere and it is getting worse everywhere," Van Dijk said.
She said the numbers are straining the hospitals, and statewide only 8% of ICU beds are available.
Gov. Tony Evers again urged people to voluntarily shelter-in-place and to take the virus seriously. "The science is clear folk. If we don't act now and if we don't treat this pandemic like the urgent crisis it is, Wisconsin could lose thousands more of our friends, family, loved ones and fellow Wisconsinities by the end of the year," he said.
Evers said that he expects to introduce a package of pandemic relief legislation next week. He declined to reveal any details of the proposals, but did not sound optimistic that Republicans who control the Legislature would sign on.
“They're not in favor of mandating anything," he said. “That makes it more difficult.”
Republican lawmakers have not met to address the pandemic since they passed a relief package in April. Since then, they and their conservative allies have worked to block every Evers initiative to curb the spread of the virus. They persuaded the state Supreme Court to strike down his stay-at-home order in May and convinced a state appeals court last month to block his restrictions on indoor gatherings. They're also challenging Evers' mask mandate before the state Supreme Court.
As a result, Evers has been reduced to begging people to stay home and avoid gatherings. He has hammered home that message during twice-weekly news conferences for months but not enough people are listening.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said last month that the state's approach to the pandemic isn't working and has called for more testing. He said Tuesday that he left a message with Evers asking him to start negotiating on legislation.
Meanwhile Thursday, Republican megadonors Liz and Dick Uihlein have tested positive for COVID-19, a newspaper reported Thursday.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that it obtained an email that Liz Uihlein sent Wednesday to employees at Uline, the couple's shipping supply company, saying they had the virus but would return to the office on Nov. 19.
“Dick and I tested positive for COVID,” she wrote. “After all these long months, I thought we'd never get it. ... If we had not been around people with COVID, we would not have been tested.”
It's unclear how the couple contracted the disease. A Uline spokesman refused to confirm their positive test results to the Journal Sentinel, telling the newspaper the company doesn't comment on employee health. A message The Associated Press left at Uline's corporate headquarters in Pleasant Prairie wasn't immediately returned.
The Journal Sentinel, citing sources it did not identify, reported that Liz Uihlein attended President Donald Trump’s election night party at the White House. A clutch of top Trump aides and campaign officials tested positive after attending that event. The White House responded to an inquiry with a statement saying only that any positive case is “taken seriously” and “appropriate notifications and recommendations have been made.” The statement did not mention the Uihleins.
The couple is among the most powerful political donors in the nation. They have given $65 million to Republican candidates and causes since the beginning of 2019, including just over $1 million to Wisconsin politicians and more than $60 million to groups and individuals supporting Trump and Republican congressional members.
Liz Uihlein was an outspoken critic of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order before the state Supreme Court struck it down in May, saying he needed to balance the disease against the long-term effects his order would have on Wisconsin's economy. She also has claimed the media “overhyped” the disease.
She said in her Wednesday email that Uline employees who have COVID symptoms must take a 10-day leave but if they don't show symptoms they must continue working. Health experts say asymptomatic carriers can still spread the disease.