CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Calling it a “disgrace” that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Wisconsin have continued to surge to the point the state recently set up a field hospital to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted Republicans for blocking the Democratic governor’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus.
“Wisconsin is what happens when you politicize public health,” Lightfoot said Wednesday.
Wisconsin has become a hot spot for the disease over the last month, ranking third nationwide this week in daily new cases per capita. Health experts have attributed the spike to the reopening of colleges and K-12 schools as well as general fatigue over wearing masks and socially distancing.
Only 16% of the state’s 11,452 hospital beds were available as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the DHS. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had grown to 853, it’s highest during the pandemic according to the COVID Tracking Project, with 216 in intensive care.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a 530-bed field hospital on the state fairgrounds in West Allis just outside Milwaukee in April at the request of Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. Local leaders had warned about the possibility of area hospitals being overwhelmed, but hospitalizations never reached the point where the hospital was needed until now.
The hospital will accept patients from across Wisconsin but is designed to provide low-level care, and it will accept only patients who have already been hospitalized elsewhere for at least 24 to 48 hours, according to the state Department of Administration. Patients who qualify will be transported to the facility by ambulance. The facility will not accept walk-ins. State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said the facility will be ready to accept 50 patients on its first day.
COVID cases in Wisconsin have surged from around 1,000 cases per day in early September to more than 3,000 cases per day the first few days of October.
Lightfoot placed the blame squarely on Republican lawmakers and the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“The governor rightfully put in place a number of different measures that were designed to keep people safe. A highly politicized move by the Republican members of that [State Assembly] took the case up to a Republican-stacked Supreme Court that struck down everything that the governor was trying to do to keep that state safe, and what have we seen? Chaos,” Lightfoot said.
After Gov. Tony Evers extended his original stay-at-home order in May, the state’s highest court struck down that order, saying he’d overstepped his authority. A state court is now weighing a lawsuit against Evers’ recent statewide mask mandate.
Lightfoot said “public health should never be politicized.”
“At a time of crisis, as we are right now, in a global pandemic, the fact that those partisans put their party over public health is shameful, and voters in Wisconsin should take note of that,” she said.
The mayor said she fears the impact the growing outbreak in Wisconsin will have not only for the Badger State, but for neighboring states like Illinoi as well.
“Not only are the residents of Wisconsin suffering as a consequence of blind allegiance to partisanship, it affects the entire region. I have beloved family members who live in Wisconsin, and I’m worried for them every single day. I’m worried for the people who have to go out and work every single day,” she said.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)