Inside a Madison COVID-19 unit as Wisconsin struggles to contain the coronavirus — 11/20/20

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

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Today we highlight our look inside of a busy Madison COVID-19 unit at a time when coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise in Wisconsin.

Bram Sable-Smith, a WPR fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom — and WPR photojournalist Angela Major — reported from inside a University Hospital COVID unit on Tuesday — a day when the Department of Health Services reported a record 92 additional deaths from the virus in Wisconsin and 89% of the state’s hospital beds were full. 

Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers on Friday declared a new 60-day public health emergency and renewed his statewide mask mandate. The move comes as the Wisconsin Supreme Court weighs the legality of Evers’ previous public health emergency declaration, which was set to expire on Saturday. 

“Wisconsin hospitals are overwhelmed and facing staffing shortages,” Evers said in a statement. “We continue to see record-setting days of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. We need everyone to stay home and wear a mask if you have to go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

DHS reported 78 additional statewide COVID-19 deaths on Friday, pushing Wisconsin’s pandemic death toll to 2,954 since March.

Top Stories 

Angela Major / WPR

Christina Brahos, a registered nurse, uses wipes after caring for a patient with COVID-19 on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, at University Hospital in Madison, Wis.

Illness, stress fill a COVID-19 unit as Wisconsin leaders stalemate  — Wisconsin Watch/WPR 

A medical examiner fought to prepare her county for the virus. Then it struck.  — The New York Times

Cities big and small facing ‘painful’ budgets as COVID-19 hammers revenue streams  — WPR 

Gov. Tony Evers, Republican leaders to meet Friday to discuss COVID-19 response measures  — Wisconsin State Journal 

WILL, private schools, parents challenge Racine’s school closure order in state Supreme Court  — Journal Times 

Advances in outpatient treatment could mean better COVID-19 outcomes, fewer hospitalizations  — WPR 

Opinion: Game plan for battling COVID-19 in Wisconsin must consider risks from youth sports  — Appleton Post-Crescent 

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

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“We’re scared to death of this holiday because we know that if … 70% of people follow our advice but 30% of people don’t, that could be the tipping point for us. We don’t have much more room right now. We’re barely hanging on.”

— Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health chief quality officer, speaking to WKOW 

“I want to thank Governor Evers and Senate Majority Leader LeMahieu for talking today. It was a productive discussion and as expected, there were issues we agreed on and some that we didn’t. Regardless, I see today’s conversation as a positive step forward to finding common ground in developing a more unified state response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

— Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a statement following a conference call with Evers and LeMahieu, R-Oostburg 

Data to note

WisContext offers these visualizations of Wisconsin’s trends in COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations.

Calculate your exposure risk

In Wisconsin, even small gatherings this holiday season can carry a big risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tool that estimates the danger by the size of gathering and county in which it is held. Data scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University developed the tool, which you can find here.

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:

Dreading a long, dark and socially distanced Wisconsin winter? Here are 5 tips from mental health experts and a  South Pole-based scientist.  — Appleton Post-Crescent 

Teacher union recertification challenged by COVID-19 pandemic, but participation hasn’t dropped  — Wisconsin State Journal 

Where to find free meals this Thanksgiving and how you can support those in need  — Milwaukee Neighborhood New Service 

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