Wisconsin officials seek to debunk false conspiracy theories surrounding contact tracing — 7/13/20

A roundup of top news and information about Wisconsin’s response to the coronavirus

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Health experts call contact tracing essential for slowing the spread of COVID-19, but misinformation is circulating in Wisconsin. Today we highlight reporter Howard Hardee’s examination of how that phenomenon is forcing local officials to use their resources to debunk false conspiracy theories about contact tracing. 

Hardee’s story for Wisconsin Watch features the Appleton City Council, which had to bat down false rumors that the city planned to create a massive surveillance system aimed at people who had tested positive for COVID-19. Said Appleton Ald. Katie Van Zeeland: “I guess I don’t know how to prove that something that does not exist does not exist. That’s the hard part about this.”

Top Stories

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Public Health Madison and Dane County said in a June 30 Facebook post that local contact tracers are increasingly encountering “people with COVID-19, especially younger people, refusing to tell us the names of close contacts.” Here, department employees fill out consent and personal information forms for waiting subjects at a drive-through testing facility for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis., on May 13, 2020.

False conspiracies swirl as Wisconsin contact tracers battle the coronavirusWisconsin Watch 

Health disparities leave Native Americans more vulnerable to COVID-19WPR 

“I feel very unwelcome.” Effort to deport international students if classes go online has many worriedMadison365

With recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, response measures likely limited to local ordersWisconsin State Journal 

How to reopen schools: What science and other countries teach usThe New York Times

Bars and coronavirus don’t mix. Will Wisconsin’s drinking culture ever be the same?Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Milwaukee tourism leaders say masks will help rebound tourism industryWISN-TV 

Reports on “recovered” Covid-19 cases inconsistent and incompleteMidwest Center for Investigative Reporting

What are we missing? And how are you coping? Help us provide critical information and accountability by filling out this form or emailing us at tips@wisconsinwatchmediapartners.wpcomstaging.com.

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Federal watchdog issues subpoenas for unemployment insurance claims data

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has subpoenaed all states for comprehensive data on millions of unemployment insurance claims filed since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic became a national crisis, “a sweeping fraud-detection probe that some workforce professionals say could delay payment of benefits,” Bloomberg Law reported on Friday. 

“The subpoenas were issued June 19 and gave states until Friday, July 10, to submit data on all claims for regular unemployment insurance and new programs funded by virus-relief law,” according to the Bloomberg Law report. 

Wisconsin’s overwhelmed unemployment insurance system has already left thousands of jobless state residents without financial support during the pandemic. 

Ben Jedd, a Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development spokesman, confirmed that his agency had received a subpoena — and was granted an extension to comply. But it was unclear how long compliance might take as the agency processes its backlog of claims, Jedd wrote late Friday in an email to Bram Sable-Smith, a WPR reporter based in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom.

“Detection and prevention of fraud in the (unemployment insurance) program is important. We are working with the OIG to comply with the subpoena and they have granted us an extension,” Jedd’s email said. “After we have finalized the technical requirements with OIG, we will begin compiling and sharing the information with OIG. We have not yet determined the amount of time it will take staff to comply with the subpoena as we are still finalizing the technical requirements with OIG.”

Government updates

Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Gov. Tony Evers’ office

U.S. Centers and Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization 


“Every day I’ll go to work, going ‘is this going to be the day’? Like if our doors are open, is this going to be the day? Is one of my staff going to call in sick tomorrow?”

AJ Dixon of Milwaukee’s Lazy Susan restaurant, which continues to offer only takeout during the pandemic, speaking to WTMJ-TV

Data to note

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Monday reported 494 new cases of COVID-19, with 7.5% of tests returning positive. The department reported zero new deaths in a pandemic that has reportedly killed 820.

Here are the latest visualizations of cases and deaths from our partners at WisContext.

And here is DHS’s look at Wisconsin’s hospital capabilities.


Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us: tips@wisconsinwatchmediapartners.wpcomstaging.com.

Wisconsin agritourism takes a hit from COVID-19, but on-farm events are on the mendMilwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Wisconsin man raises over $8K for coalition by cutting off his beardWTMJ-TV 

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