MADISON, Wis. — One week before Thanksgiving city and public health officials in Milwaukee and Madison are urging people not to gather in groups for the holiday to cut down on spread of the coronavirus.
“We all want to be with loved ones on Thanksgiving, and we all want to be with people we feel most comfortable with,” said Tom Barrett, Milwaukee's Mayor. “But as we see time and time and time again, oftentimes that is the most dangerous situation because that's when we let our guard down.”
In a press conference Thursday, Barrett urged people to switch to a virtual format for Thanksgiving gatherings, saying he was doing so himself. He said it would be a critical day for the coronavirus outbreak.
In Madison, the city's Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway delivered a similar message in a press conference Thursday. She said she was also opting for virtual visits with her family this year
“We're in a very dangerous phase of this pandemic, and we really need everybody to be a part of this solution,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Unfortunately, given the time of year that it is, that does mean that we all have to give up some of the normal traditions that we have.”
Public Health Madison and Dane County issued an order this week prohibiting in-person gatherings. Janel Heinrich, PHMDC director, said that a quarter of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the county in the past two weeks reported attending a gathering.
“We know this is probably underrepresented,” Heinrich said of the figure.
Heinrich said that a gathering of 15 people in Dane County has a 46 percent change of someone present having COVID-19. She said that number is higher outside of the county.
“In years past many of us have had 15 or more people gathered for a Thanksgiving meal, this year it's nearly a coin flip whether at least one person there will have COVID,” Heinrich said. “No one should feel comfortable with those odds.”
Dane County is seeing hospitalizations rise in every age group.
Milwaukee County public health officials say hospital capacity is very tight in Southeast Wisconsin.
“I can tell you all our hospitals, all our health systems are extremely strained and frankly very worried when we see trends that are getting worse rather than getting better,”said Dr. Ben Weston, Director of Medical Services for Milwaukee County. “It's hard to imagine how that is sustainable from a health systems standpoint.”
Weston said there's not much more than can do to prepare for a possible post-Thanksgiving spike in cases.
Milwaukee is working to continue to ramp up coronavirus testing, and will open its testing facility at Miller Park on Saturdays stating this week.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said last week a mass testing event at the County House of Corrections showed nine staff and 53 inmates tested positive for coronavirus out of about 1,000 tests administered. He said the county is immediately implementing extra testing, screening and social distancing measures to try and cut down on the chances of the virus from coming into and spreading in the jail.
The Dane County jail is also seeing an outbreak of coronvirus, the Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that 38 inmates there have tested positive for coronavirus.