Democrat Governor of Wisconsin Refuses to Reopen Before May 26 Despite Declining COVID-19 Rates

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, insists on keeping the state shut down until May 26 despite a declining rate of positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations, and coronavirus deaths per capita in the state.

Evers first shut the state down with a “safer-at-home” executive order for 30 days in late March. Then on April 16, he announced he would be extending the original shutdown for 30 days until May 26 after the original 30-day shutdown order expired.

Four days later, “[o]n Monday [April 20], Evers released his plan for reopening Wisconsin that requires, among other things, a 14-day decline in positive COVID-19 cases and more protective equipment, tests and other supplies to deal with the pandemic. He said his plan mirrors guidelines issued by President Donald Trump’s administration,” the Associated Press reported:

“I just accepted the biggest Republican in the country, his plan, because it’s a rational plan,” Evers said. “Now, if the state Republicans don’t think Donald Trump is appropriate, they can deal with Donald Trump, I guess.”

Evers’ claim that he is simply following the guidelines established by the Trump administration for state governments last month, which includes three different areas of focus — cases, symptoms, and hospitals — does not accurately represent the details of those guidelines, however,

As Breitbart News reported, the Trump administration guidelines for cases “specified meeting either of two criteria: (1) Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period OR (2) Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).”

Evers has hung his decision to extend his “safer-at-home” executive order to May 26, in part, on data that shows the absolute number of COVID-19 cases has not declined. But the Trump administration guidelines specifically state that the case guidelines can be met with either a “downward trajectory of documented cases” or a “downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.”

Declining Positive COVID-19 Test Rates

Data from the COVID Tracking Project shows that, as of May 11, there has been “a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests” in Wisconsin from 9.7 percent of all those new daily tests reported on April 26 to 6.6 percent of all the new daily tests reported on May 11.

This significant downward trend between April 26 and May 11 has brought the percentage of those who have tested positive in Wisconsin since the start of the pandemic down from 9.1 percent on April 26 to 8.8 percent on May 11, as Table 1 below illustrates.

Table 1

Percentage of COVID-19 Tests Positive in Wisconsin

April 26, 2020 to May 11, 2020

Source: Data from The Covid Tracking Project, as of May 11

Date New Tests New Positives %  Positive Total Tests Total Positives % Positive
April 26 2,321 224 9.7% 65,146 5,911 9.1%
April 27 2,246 170 7.6% 67,392 6,081 9.0%
April 28 2,432 208 8.6% 69,824 6,289 9.0%
April 29 3,326 231 6.9% 73,150 6,520 8.9%
April 30 3,098 334 10.8% 76,248 6,854 9.0%
May 1 3,632 460 12.7% 79,880 7,314 9.2%
May 2 3,350 346 10.3% 83,230 7,660 9.2%
May 3 2,731 304 11.1% 85,961 7,964 9.3%
May 4 2,742 272 9.9% 88,703 8,236 9.3%
May 5 3,830 330 8.6% 92,533 8,566 9.3%
May 6 4,194 335 8.0% 96,727 8,901 9.2%
May 7 5,523 314 5.7% 102,250 9,215 9.0%
May 8 4,605 375 8.1% 106,855 9,590 9.0%
May 9 5,019 349 7.0% 111,874 9,939 8.9%
May 10 3,508 280 8.0% 115,382 10,219 8.9%
May 11 3,069 199 6.5% 118,451 10,418 8.8%

Notably, the three-day running average of total COVID-19 tests conducted in the state has increased by almost 50 percent from 2,333 in the three-day period between April 26 to April 28 to 3,865 during the three-day period between May 9 and May 11. Not surprisingly, the three-day running average of cases has increased during this period from 205 to 276, but that increase is a much lower 35 percent.

Though the absolute number of new daily cases of coronavirus has increased between April 26 and May 11, that is a function of the near doubling of tests conducted, as the percentage of positives has declined from 8.6 percent during the three days between April 26 and April 28 to 7.2 percent during the three days between May 9 and May 11.

The 8.8 percent positive rate of all those who have taken the COVID-19 test from the beginning of the pandemic to May 11 in the state of Wisconsin (10,418 out of 118,451) is far below the national average of 14 percent (1.3 million out of 9.3 million), as reported by the COVID Tracking Project during the same time period.

Low Hospitalization Rates

With regards to the guidelines established by the Trump administration for hospitalizations, Breitbart News reported, “the guidelines specified the requirement to meet both of two criteria: (1) Treat all patients without crisis care, AND (2) Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.”

Cumulative hospitalizations for COVID-19, that is, all patients who have ever been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic in Wisconsin, have increased by only 449 patients between April 26, when it stood at 1,397, to 1,846 as of May 11, according to the COVID Tracking project.

Current hospitalizations are far lower. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, there are at present only 340 patients hospitalized in the state for COVID-19. Of those, 116 are in ICU beds. An additional 180 are hospitalized pending results of COVID-19 tests.

Hospitals remain far below capacity in the state when it comes to regular beds, ICU beds, and ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, 1,257 ventilators are on hand in the state, while only 356 are receiving mechanical ventilation for the treatment of any disease.

Low Per Capita Death Rates

On a per capita basis, according to Worldometers, Wisconsin has experienced 69 COVID-19 deaths per million people, far below the 1,378 deaths per million people experienced in New York State.

The Badger State has one of the lowest COVID-19 per capita death rates in the country. The average age of residents of Wisconsin who have died from COVID-19 deaths is 76 years old (See Table 2 below, based on the latest data from the Wisconsin Department of Health), slightly older than the national average of 75. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, 42 percent of the 400 people who have died of COVID-19 were residents of nursing homes.

Table 2

Average Age of Wisconsin Resident Who Has Died of COVID-19

Source: Data from Wisconsin Dept. of Health as of May 10

Ave. Age Age Group Deaths Total Years
44.5 40-49 11 490
54.5 50-59 34 1,853
64.5 60-69 61 3,935
74.5 70-79 117 8,717
84.5 80-89 97 8,197
92 90 + 71 6,532
391 29,722
Average Age (Total Years/Deaths) = 76

Thirty-three percent of the 400 people who have died of COVID-19 in Wisconsin were 90 years old or older according to the Wisconsin Department of Health. A stunning 70 percent of those who have died of COVID-19 in the state were 70 years old or older.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health, 42 percent of the 400 people who have died of COVID-19 in Wisconsin as of May 10 (or 164) were residents of nursing homes. On April 29, just 11 days earlier, just 37 percent of the 308 who had died of COVID-19 as of that date (or 115) were residents of nursing homes. (Note: The number of total COVID-19 deaths in the state increased to 409 as of May 11.)

During the 11-day period between April 29 and May 10, 49 out of the 92 people who died of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, or 55 percent, were residents of nursing homes.

Wisconsin seems to be experiencing the same phenomenon as other states — an increasing percentage of COVID-19 deaths are coming from nursing homes.

On April 21, Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature sued Gov. Evers to end his “safer-at-home” order immediately, not on May 26, as The Chicago Tribune reported. The case is currently before the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.

On Friday Gov. Evers announced a plan to reopen the state when the current order expires on May 26, but not before:

Evers’ order to stay home expires May 26 and the governor said Friday he doesn’t see any reason for it to be extended. It could be cut short, technically, by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit brought by Republican lawmakers to block Evers’ order.

The lawmakers are also asking the court to immediately delay its decision to give the department time to come up with a different plan that would be considered by a Republican-controlled committee that includes members that have been heavily critical of Evers’ approach to controlling the virus outbreak.  

Practically, it’s possible a new plan wouldn’t be in place until after the order lawmakers are seeking to block expires anyway. 

The most recent data is likely to bolster the case filed by Republicans to end Gov. Evers’ “safer-at-home” executive order before May 26, but it is unclear if the Wisconsin State Supreme Court will render a decision on the case before the executive order expires.

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