MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday declared a public-health emergency over the coronavirus, which helps free up resources to respond to its growing threat. Meanwhile, the Capitol closed to formal tours until further notice and the state high school athletics association moved to restrict attendance at winter tournaments.
Evers said in a statement that the state needs to perform “extensive contract tracing” to contain the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Wisconsin has so far confirmed five cases, and Evers said 37 residents will be returning to the state from a Princess cruise ship where they may have been exposed to the virus.
A top union official responded on Thursday by calling on government agencies to adopt policies meant to ensure sick employees take time away from the workplace without endangering their livelihoods. Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said policies should be in place to prevent workers from being punished for taking sick leave, to prevent people who are receiving unemployment benefits from having to search for work while they are sick, to ensure workers have access to free COVID-19 testing and to provide protective equipment to health-care workers.
Bloomingdale also called on employers to establish “sick banks,” which let employees take additional sick days after they’ve exhausted all of their regularly allotted paid leave. The banks work essentially like insurance arrangements — allowing healthy workers to donate sick days every year in return for a guarantee of additional paid time off should they suffer a catastrophic or long-term illness.
“It is up to us individually and collectively to take responsibility to end this epidemic,” Bloomingdale said in an official statement. “This means that workers should stay home when sick, companies shouldn’t punish workers who do stay home sick, and industry and government must create the funds necessary to ensure that workers continue to receive pay checks.”
Evers’ order specifically allows the Department of Health Services to buy appropriate medications to respond to the virus, and authorizes state money to support local health departments. It also frees up money for the Wisconsin National Guard, if needed.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association moved to limit attendance at winter tournaments, most notably the girls’ basketball tournament underway at Resch Center near Green Bay and the boys’ tournament at the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus March 19-21. The policy limits attendance to 88 tickets per team, two supervisors and 22 team members.
“As good and responsible citizens, we are adhering to policies consistent to preventing the spread of COVID-19,” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said.
At the Capitol, the state Department of Administration announced Thursday that it was canceling all formal tours of the state Capitol in Madison until further notice. The building remains open to the public, at least for now.
For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4,300 have died.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s campaign has canceled an event in Wisconsin next week because of the coronavirus. The “Catholics for Trump” event was scheduled on March 19 in Milwaukee.