MILWAUKEE COUNTY -- The number of positive cases of the coronavirus rose to 90 in Wisconsin on Tuesday, March 17, with Milwaukee County health officials confirming a total of 40 in the county -- 13 in Milwaukee and 27 in the suburbs. State health officials said Tuesday 1,038 people tested negative.
The Milwaukee County briefing was held by phone Tuesday -- with officials taking precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"We are in response mode to this pandemic," said Jeanette Kowalik, Commissioner of Health for the City of Milwaukee.
A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee employee tested positive for the coronavirus, UWM officials announced Tuesday in a news release posted on the university’s website.
Governor Tony Evers Tuesday took the unprecedented step of limiting gatherings of more than 10 people -- closing restaurants and bars in Wisconsin except for carryout or delivery. Evers also extended the closure of all public and private K-12 schools indefinitely and said he would be talking with legislative leaders on Wednesday about an aid package.
"What we're saying is this -- stay home if you can," said Gov. Evers. "There are workers on the front lines who can't stay home."
"A lot of Milwaukee-based businesses have dramatically scaled down the number of employees already," said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. "Not by 50%, by more than that 80% that are actually showing up at work. The majority of business owners, and I know, I’ve heard this from the Chamber of Commerce who represent thousands, they are very aware, and taking it extremely seriously to move to telecommute and cancel in-person meetings."
Milwaukee County officials reported Tuesday no confirmed cases at the Milwaukee County Jail or House of Correction, but noted corrections officers would be required to wear personal protective equipment if someone tested positive.
"In this case, for COVID-19, it would immediately put a mask on that person, and for the officer that would be interacting with that person because, of course, you're violating social distancing of six feet," said Christine Westrich, director of Milwaukee County Emergency Management. "They'd be putting on PPE, personal protective equipment."
Milwaukee County health officials said most businesses were cooperating with the ban on gatherings of more than 10, but Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik noted Chapter 252 allows the health commissioner to take further steps if needed.
"At some point, we’re going to have to get to the point to exercise Chapter 252 for more closures," said Kowalik. "We’re going to have to do that at some point. We’d rather people cooperate. Your ability to make a living and revenue is important, but this disease has the ability to cause severe economic damage to the world. The focus for us is saving lives, and the financial aspect, as far as loss, is something that is inevitable, unfortunately."
Milwaukee County officials on Tuesday could not offer the number of pending coronavirus cases in the county.