As rain and blustery wind lashed about 60 local officials and the Wisconsin National Guard medical team, hundreds of residents waited in lines in their cars to get free COVID-19 tests Monday in Janesville.
It was the first day of a five-day run of drive-thru testing offered by the National Guard and Rock County Emergency Management at Dawson Ball Fields south of downtown.
The National Guard plans to continue testing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day this week at the ball fields, city spokeswoman Maggie Darr said. The goal is to test up to 500 people each day, she said. Testing officials have 2,500 tests to administer.
Darr, a coordinator for the testing, said by mid-afternoon Monday, National Guard officials had tested about 200 people who had registered online in advance.
Additional cars waited in line amid the rain, wind and emerging word that President Donald Trump plans to visit Janesville this weekend.
The public testing site opens at a time when positive cases of the coronavirus are peaking in Rock County. Deaths, hospitalizations and new cases soared over the weekend in the county, and Wisconsin has made national headlines for its sharp spike in cases.
Testing officials guided Monday’s line of vehicles in loops around barricades at the ball fields. At times, cars were backed up hundreds of yards north along Beloit Avenue.
The National Guard confirmed the testing site and dates last week and opened online registration over the weekend. A crew of city, Rock County Emergency Management and county health department officials aided the National Guard as dozens of people moved through the site every hour.
Darr said anyone can register to get tested at Dawson, although those being tested won’t have scheduled appointments. After cars filled the parking lot for most of the day Monday, Darr suggested people should plan for a wait in their cars.
The tests are the typical nose swab type. Darr said the main goal is for people to learn whether they’re infected so that they can stay home and isolate.
Organizers hope people who think they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, aches and headache, will use the testing site this week.
“It’s open to anybody. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people, including a woman this morning who said, ‘I want to go visit my mother in Minneapolis on Friday, and I want to make sure that I don’t have COVID. Can I get a test?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. She’s a perfect example of somebody we’d rather get a test before they potentially go and visit family,” Darr said.
Two Spanish-language interpreters worked at the testing site Monday to help some people who had registered navigate a short health questionnaire after their tests.
It’s not clear when the state will issue results to those who are tested, but a state Department of Health Services portal to register for the tests indicates that results will be sent via email or text message.
The health department lists a hotline for people to call if they haven’t gotten results within five days.
A Wisconsin judge Monday allowed the state’s mask mandate to stand, rejecting an attempt by the Republican-controlled Legislature and a conservative law firm to overturn it even as coronavirus cases spiked and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 hit a new high.
The judge noted in his ruling that lawmakers could vote to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ order but haven’t so far. Evers sent Republican legislative leaders a letter hours after the ruling asking them to drop the lawsuit and “work together on our state’s greatest challenges.”
Noting a spike in cases and the opening of a field hospital to provide additional capacity for coronavirus patients, Evers urged Republicans to “start taking this seriously.”
Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Legislature filed a brief in support of the lawsuit. Also Monday, a Republican-led legislative committee took the first steps to overturn another order Evers issued last week setting capacity limits for business.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which filed suit against the mask mandate, will appeal, said the group’s president Rick Esenberg. He did not say if they would attempt to skip the state appeals court by asking the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case. Esenberg called the issue a “critical constitutional matter.”
The lawsuit argued that Evers overstepped his authority by issuing multiple emergency orders to curb the coronavirus pandemic. It also said masks are ineffective since Wisconsin’s infection numbers have continued to rise since Evers’ mandate was imposed. Evers defended the mask order, saying it was within his power to impose the requirement and that he followed the recommendations of public health experts.
St. Croix County Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman said in his ruling that nothing prevents a governor from issuing multiple emergency declarations “when the emergency conditions continue to exist.”
“And, if the Legislature is unconvinced that a state of emergency does exist, the Legislature has the ultimate power to terminate it,” the judge said.
Evers called the ruling a victory in the fight against COVID-19.
“We will continue doing everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus,” he said. “We ask Wisconsinites to please stay home as much as possible, limit travel and going to public gatherings, and wear a mask whenever out and about.”
The judge also noted that overturning the mask mandate would “affect every person in Wisconsin by a judicial act that usurps the governor’s power to declare a state of emergency and the Legislature’s power to end one.”
Evers first declared a public health emergency in March and renewed it in July after the Legislature declined to extend it. The July order mandated the wearing of masks starting in August for anyone aged 5 and up in all enclosed spaces except at home. He issued another order in September that extended the mask mandate until Nov. 21. Violators could be subject to a $200 fine.
Wisconsin is currently among the nation’s worst COVID-19 hot spots with more than 152,000 positive cases as of Monday. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases reached a record high of 2,547, up from 2,395 a week ago, the state Department of Health Services said. Medical experts have attributed Wisconsin’s spike to colleges and K-12 schools reopening and general fatigue with virus restrictions.
The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin because of COVID-19 also hit a record high Monday at 950, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The previous high was 907 set just four days earlier. Monday’s total was up by 61 from the day before and 168 over the past seven days.
Republican legislators in May succeeded in getting the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down Evers’ virus-related stay-at-home order. The high court ruled that the Evers administration had overstepped its authority when it extended the order without consulting lawmakers.
Republican legislators in other states have skirmished repeatedly with Democratic governors over their powers during the pandemic. In neighboring Michigan, the conservative-majority state Supreme Court ruled that the law underpinning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the pandemic was unconstitutional.
President Donald Trump is set to return to Janesville on Saturday, two weeks after he was supposed to visit the city but didn’t because he was in the hospital with COVID-19, according to a fundraiser invitation.
In an email Monday, Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said the U.S. Secret Service asked his office to assist with a Trump campaign event Saturday at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
He said Monday afternoon the time is “still to be determined” and that his office has “few details at this point,” although he expects to learn more in the near future.
Meanwhile, Rock County’s health department on its dashboard said the positivity rate of new cases reported Monday was 83%, which is by far the highest it has been locally during the pandemic.
The invitation doesn’t give many details, but it asks guests to join a “VIP pre-speech reception and Make America Great Again event” with Trump in Janesville on Saturday.
The invitation says $15,000 gets someone a VIP reception, expedited entry, premier reserved seating and parking per couple.
Other options listed are $2,800 for the same with the difference being parking per person and not couple. For $1,000, the invitation says someone can get a VIP reception and expedited entry.
It’s not immediately clear if there will be an event free and open to the public. The Gazette has reached out to the campaign for more information but had not heard back as of Monday afternoon.
The White House doctor on Monday said Trump had tested negative for the new coronavirus on consecutive days.
Before Trump’s last visit to Janesville was canceled, Rock County officials urged him not to come because of health risks associated with holding a rally where the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
Local officials hear it officially: President Donald Trump has canceled his Janesville airport appearance after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“Rock County is experiencing an unprecedented pandemic that threatens the health of our residents,” Rock County Board Chairwoman Kara Purviance said in a news release Oct. 1. “It is irresponsible of the president to hold a rally that will put Rock County citizens in danger of contracting and spreading the virus.”
On Monday, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith told The Gazette the county will not take the same approach in advance of this visit.
“Based on our previous conversations with the campaign and information we put out, we believe everyone is aware of the concerns we have about mass gatherings and the need to comply with public health guidance,” he said. “At this point, we’re encouraging all attendees to wear a mask, remain physically distant, sanitize. That’s really our approach at this point.”
He said he did not think going the same route—asking the president not to visit the area—would “result in any different outcomes.”
“We expect that people are going to make decisions that will keep themselves and others safe,” he said.
The president, who is 74, was hospitalized with COVID-19 for a few days.
Wisconsin is seen as one of the crucial battleground states in Trump’s reelection effort against Democrat Joe Biden.
The president’s son Eric Trump was scheduled to visit Milton on Monday afternoon.
The state is considered one of the worst in the country for virus spread.
In Rock County, there are 941 active COVID-19 cases, according to the county’s dashboard, last updated at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Rock County has seen 3,423 laboratory confirmed cases and 36 deaths during the pandemic.
Nearly 1,500 people have died from COVID-19 in the state.
This story was updated with information from the county’s health department at 4:07 p.m. Monday.
President Donald Trump trails Democrat Joe Biden by 4 percentage points in Wisconsin, according to one poll, but Trump’s son Eric and a crowd of hundreds who heard him at a campaign stop Monday didn’t seem to care.
Polls have underestimated Donald Trump’s level of support before.
“We just left a site that had 400 to 500 people,” said Eric Trump, referring to a campaign event in Menomonee Falls. “We are stronger than we have ever been before.”
Eric Trump spoke at Diamond Assets, an asset management firm specializing in Apple technology buyback programs. Chairs were socially distanced on the plant floor, and all of them were filled. Some people stood at the back of the room.
Masks were encouraged, and many people wore them, but not all. Masks were available for those who did not have them.
Trump said the Nov. 3 presidential election is no longer about Democrats versus Republicans. “Honestly, it’s not. It’s right versus wrong,” he said.
He accused Democrats of “court packing,” saying they wanted to not only confirm their own justices to the Supreme Court but also wanted to expand the size of the court.
“These people are crazy,” Trump said. “When you look at the Democratic Party, this is not the party of JFK or Bill Clinton.”
He also touched on other familiar campaign themes—that Democrats want to raise taxes, ban plastic straws, censure people on social media and take away people’s guns.
He emphasized the importance of funding law enforcement. Pointing to a few police officers in the back of the room, Trump said, “We love you; we appreciate you. Thank you.”
“They want to go after your Second Amendment,” he said. “They certainly want to take away your guns. I don’t think that’s all that popular around here based on the looks in this room.”
He said his father would reduce health care costs, cut taxes, continue to build the military, and help farmers and industry. He thanked Mike and Diamond McKenna, owners of Diamond Assets, for hosting the event, saying, “What an all-American Dream story that is.”
When you reduce taxes, he said, “You make companies competitive again. You reduce regulations, you allow them to be able to build phenomenal facilities like this.”
And, he said, “You become a cheerleader for this country. I think that’s the one thing the media doesn’t talk about. I think the thing my father will be known for is, I think he’s become the greatest cheerleader this country has ever seen.”
Milly Babcock of Milton said she was in Texas for a wedding when she received a text that the Trump campaign planned to stop in Milton. She flew back Sunday.
“I was thrilled and very proud of Mike and Diamond McKenna for hosting at their huge, beautiful company,” she said.
Timothy Rookey of Middleton said he once considered himself a Democrat but not anymore.
“Trump has accomplished so many things: getting our economy strong, getting our borders secure, very much defending religious values,” he said.
Outside on the sidewalk, Susanna Bucklin held a sign reading, “No hate in our state.” Her sister Laine, who recently converted to Catholicism, held a sign that said, “Proverbs 22:16: Whoever oppresses the poor or gives to the rich shall only come to poverty.”
“He’s dividing the country to a point that we haven’t seen since the Civil War,” Susanna Bucklin said. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in domestic terror and hate crime.”
She also objected to a campaign stop in Milton during a dangerous time in the pandemic.
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