Wisconsin reports 3rd virus death, mayors urge primary delay

Wisconsin reported a third coronavirus death Friday, as a bipartisan trio of mayors objected to proceeding with the April 7 presidential primary and a doctor with a Madison-based health system tested positive.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner said it is investigating the death of a 66-year-old man who died from complications of a COVID-19 infection. The medical examiner said the Milwaukee man had been hospitalized for several days prior to his death.

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday announced the first two confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Wisconsin. One was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County and the other was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 155 confirmed coronavirus cases in 21 counties Thursday. State health officials planned to update Wisconsin’s virus infection and death tally Friday afternoon.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

SSM Health said in a statement Friday that one of its doctors tested positive for the virus. The doctor was not showing symptoms during their last encounters with patients, but as symptoms developed the doctor self-quarantined and was tested, SSM Health said.

The health system said it is working with the local health departments to identify and contact all staff and patients who may have come into contact with the doctor.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Friday that a birth suites nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison said she was exposed to another worker at the hospital who later tested positive. SSM Health operates the hospital, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the doctor who tested positive was the same one the nurse said she had contact with.

Nurse Jennifer Aumanstal said she is allowed to work as long as she wears a surgical mask and remains asymptomatic.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa has said one of its doctors tested positive, resulting in testing of about 200 patients and staff. A doctor who works in the maximum-security Waupun Correctional Institution has also tested positive.

Also on Friday, the mayors of Green Bay, Appleton and Neenah joined together to object to holding the April 7 spring election and presidential primary, given concerns about spreading the virus. The mayors — two Republicans and one Democrat — said the election should be delayed so it could be conducted by mail-in ballot only.

Moving ahead with the election without any changes is a “logistical train wreck and a public health travesty,” said Democratic Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich.

The mayors accused Evers of sending mixed messages by ordering no gatherings of more than 10 people, but proceeding with the election where larger groups could congregate at polling sites.

They also expressed concerns about older poll workers, election clerks and city staff being put at risk if polling goes ahead as planned.

Evers and legislative leaders have said they plan to proceed as scheduled, even though several other states delayed their spring elections.

“Ensuring the health and safety of Wisconsinites is our top priority, but the governor has said repeatedly that our democracy must continue,” said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. “He has been urging folks to vote by absentee ballot and believes that process should be as simple and accessible as possible.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission this week outlined a host of potential problems with the election, including a drop in available poll workers because many of them are older and high-risk for complications from the virus.

In addition to the presidential primary, there is a state Supreme Court race on the ballot and hundreds of local elections for mayor, city council, school board and other offices.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is on the ballot, announced Thursday night that he was self-quarantining for two weeks after learning he had come into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. The 66-year-old Barrett is a Democrat seeking a fifth term as mayor.