For the first time, Wisconsin today appeared on a list that no state wants to be on — a list of states experiencing such a high rate of coronavirus spread that its residents are banned from traveling to New York.
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the list last month, along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, to reduce their citizens’ exposure to new cases from outside of their region. States with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average. automatically wind up on the list.
Wisconsin broke another record for newly found infections on July 14, reporting 964 new cases. That number represents 6.6 of the tests performed that day. On July 12, the test positivity rate was 10.1 percent.
New cases are surging in nearly half of the states. Including Wisconsin, 22 states are on New York’s travel ban list. Cuomo announced a travel enforcement operation that began today at airports across his state to help ensure travelers follow the state's quarantine restrictions.
Wisconsin's COVID history
Wisconsin's current spike in new cases comes after an early and successful public health intervention that began in late March.
Wisconsin reached its highest positivity rate of 23.1 percent on March 11. But at that time, Wisconsin’s testing ability was limited to people who exhibited symptoms.
The rate was 5.3 percent on March 23, when Gov. Tony Evers' Safer at Home plan went into effect, essentially putting the state under lockdown and pushing down the infection rate.
But on May 13, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos persuaded the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Republican-backed majority to undo the Safer-at-Home plan before it had been fully implemented according to CDC guidelines. During the hearing, which was argued online to protect the justices from exposure to the virus, Justice Rebecca Bradley stirred national outrage by comparing Safer at Home to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. Scott Walker originally appointed her to the court.
By Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, Wisconsinites were picking up where their lives had left off, returning to work, bars, parties, places of worship and other crowded, indoor venues. The virus can take two weeks or longer before infected people become sick enough to see a doctor or go to the hospital. Meanwhile, they can still spread the virus; so can people who are infected but never become sick.
So, it’s not surprising that in mid-June, the test-positivity began moving upward again. By the Fourth of July weekend, the number of people infected in Wisconsin and other states where all restrictions had been lifted exploded.
New York takes action
New York has been by far the hardest hit state, and the New York City area is by far the hardest hit area in the state. Nightmarish, dystopian images coming out of New York — pictures of mass graves and refrigerated trucks used as temporary morgues —shocked the world in late March and April.
But Cuomo took strong, decisive action, and on July 12 the state had its first day with no COVID-19 deaths since March. Positive tests remained at about 1 percent from mid-June until July 13, when there were five deaths and the percentage of positive tests inched up to 1.5 percent.
Cuomo blamed residents for becoming too complacent about wearing masks and social distancing, particularly on the Fourth of July.
Now governors in other states where cases are exploding are mandating masks and social distancing, shuttering bars, limiting restaurant occupancy and considering other actions to mitigate the virus in their states.
Unlike Cuomo and other governors, however, Evers has no discretion to implement public health protections, since the state’s high court has ruled them as unconstitutional. Dane County and Milwaukee enacted local ordinances requiring people to wear protective masks. Vos has said the mandates are unnecessary, but he doesn’t plan to have the Supreme Court overturn them.