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Wisconsin’s Huge Coronavirus Outbreak Worries Chicago Officials: ‘I Fear For The Safety’

Wisconsin is "right next door," adding to officials' concerns about how the state's out-of-control outbreak could impact Chicago.

The Wisconsin Capitol building.
J. Stephen Conn/Flickr
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CHICAGO — Wisconsin’s coronavirus outbreak has surged — and Chicago officials are worried about how that will impact the city.

Wisconsin has seen 17,066 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past week, trailing just two states — Texas and California — even though the Midwestern state has just a fraction of their populations. With the state’s hospitals nearing capacity and the health care system overloaded, Wisconsin officials announced this week they are opening a field hospital.

In response, Chicago’s top health official, Dr. Allison Arwady, urged residents not to travel to Wisconsin. And if you must go, you are legally required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Chicago, she said.

“I’m really worried about Wisconsin,” Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at an unrelated Wednesday news conference. “The increases that we have seen there far outweigh what we saw here in Illinois at the worst of our peak back in May. It’s not shown signs of coming down or even flattening.”

Wisconsin is “right next door” to Chicago, Arwady said, adding to the concern. Many people regularly commute between the two for work or to travel to see family and friends and vacation.

RELATED: Wisconsin Is Back On Chicago’s Quarantine List: ‘Think Twice About Going To Wisconsin Right Now’

Wisconsin has been on Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order list for weeks, meaning people can be fined if they travel from Wisconsin to Chicago and don’t quarantine for at least two weeks.

But while other states have been removed from the list as they got their outbreaks better under control, Wisconsin’s has only worsened in recent weeks.

Part of the issue is due to partisanship, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the same news conference.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers attempted to implement restrictions that would slow the spread of the virus. But Evers, a Democrat, was challenged by Republican legislators and a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, which led to those restrictions being lifted and the virus spreading, Lightfoot said.

“Wisconsin is what happens when you politicize public health,” Lightfoot said. “The fact that in October a state is now having to open a field hospital because of the stress on the health care system, because of the explosion in cases requiring hospitalization, is a disgrace. And it solely ties back to the actions of a partisan state Legislature and a partisan supreme court.

“Public health should never be politicized.”

Lightfoot said Wisconsin’s struggle will affect the entire region, noting she has “beloved family” in Wisconsin and she’s “worried for them every single day.”

“I fear for the safety of Wisconsin,” she said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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