MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has declared a public health emergency in response to new cases of COVID-19, directing the Department of Health Services (DHS) to use all the resources necessary to respond to and contain the outbreak.

Just this week, Wisconsin has had five new cases of COVID-19, and Illinois and Minnesota have also seen increased cases. With the new cases there needs to be extensive contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19. Wisconsin also has 37 residents returning to Wisconsin from the Princess Cruise Ship who may have been exposed and need to be in monitored self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We have been working aggressively to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this declaration allows us to get the resources we need to continue to be proactive when it comes to protecting Wisconsinites,” said Evers. “It is the latest step in the work our state agencies have been doing around the clock with our healthcare partners to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic.”

On the governor's Facebook page, he wrote:

"This has been an ongoing effort. From briefing calls with Vice President Pence on the federal government's response to our briefing with state officials and legislators a week ago, we have been working diligently to get the most current and accurate information.

"Also last week, the Wisconsin Office of The Commissioner of Insurance requested insurers waive co-pays for COVID-19 testing and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has been on top of this situation. I want to thank Secretary-designee Andrea Palm for her leadership.

"We also worked with our federal partners to secure $10.2 million in federal funding, and we will continue to work with them to ensure that Wisconsin is capitalizing on the federal assistance available to us."

The governor emergency executive order directs DHS to take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent and respond to incidences of COVID-19. It allows the department to purchase, store, or distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance or other health coverage, as needed to respond to the emergency. It also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation and quarantine, as well as the use of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Executive Order #72 can be found here.

Wisconsin's latest cases are in Piece, Dane, Fond du Lac, and Waukesha counties. The state's first confirmed case of COVID-19 was discovered in Dane County in early February. That patient was exposed to known cases while in China, and after isolating at home has now recovered and is doing well.

If COVID-19 begins to spread in Wisconsin communities, state and local public health officials will consider community interventions such as social distancing, replacing in-person meetings with telework when possible, reviewing workplace sick leave policies, modifying, postponing or canceling mass gatherings, implementing restrictions on visitors to residential treatment and living facilities, and closures of schools, and childcare settings.

Decisions about the implementation of community measures will be made by state and local officials based on CDC and DHS guidance, as well as the scope of the outbreak.

People should follow simple steps to avoid getting sick, including:

> Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water.

> Covering coughs and sneezes.

> Avoiding touching your face.

> Staying home when sick.

“This can be a frightening time, but our state has incredible health professionals who are working to contain the spread,” Evers said. “We cannot do this alone, we need all hands on deck to protect the public from COVID-19.”

Recently DHS released new guidance for mass gatherings and travel, which can be found at the DHS website linked below.

This is a rapidly evolving situation and we encourage you and the public to frequently monitor the DHS website for updates, and to follow @DHSWI on Facebook and Twitter, or dhs.wi on Instagram. Additional information can be found on the CDC website.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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