Mayor Tom Barrett

Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 more commonly known as coronavirus has been the number one topic of discussion around the world. In recent days, the reaction towards coronavirus has increased as universities have canceled class, meetings have been postponed and the number of those affected continues to rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared coronavirus a pandemic.

Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett, Jeanette Kowalik, the health commissioner for the City of Milwaukee along with several others held a press conference regarding Milwaukee and a coronavirus update.

“I want our residents to know that ensuring the health safety of our residents is our top priority,” Barrett said, adding that the city is committed to providing updates as the situation continues to unfold.

As of Wednesday, March 12, there has not been any cases of coronavirus in Milwaukee, however, there have been three confirmed cases in Wisconsin. Barrett stressed that the situation is being monitored extremely closely.

Right now, the public risk is low, he said, but it could change. It’s important that people continue to practice good hygiene and cleaning practices, Barrett said.

Residents have been asked to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, cough into hands, avoid touching one’s face, stay home when sick and clean frequently touched surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued a travel advisory for those at a high risk of contracting the disease, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Barrett said that according to the CDC, it is inevitable that the coronavirus will come to Milwaukee. He said the city is taking proactive measures and preparing for it. As such, the City of Milwaukee requested that Gov. Tony Evers declare this a state of emergency. Barrett explained this decision would allow for access to federal resources such as the proper equipment for health care and safety officials.

On Thursday, March 12, Evers declared a public health emergency. According to the Journal Sentinel, there are eight cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin and currently, one of them has recovered.

“We want to make sure we are prepared,” Barrett said.

According to Kowalik, the Milwaukee Health Department is paying attention to the number of cases and deaths reported by not only the CDC but by John Hopkins University as well. She said this decision was based on the fact that academia can sometimes offer more insight.

“We want to make sure that we have the most accurate information,” she said.

Kowalik said there’s been some misinformation going on in the community and wanted to make sure people know what the symptoms look like. The symptoms made appear two to 14 days after exposure. In some cases, the symptoms will be mild and be similar to a cold or flu such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

She said that the spread of this disease is considered droplet vs airborne. That means transmission occurs if someone diagnosed with coronavirus coughs, sneezes or talks the virus travels to another person. It is suggested that individuals remain at least six feet away from one another.

With that in mind, Kowalik said individuals should issue precautionary measures when attending a public event. She added that currently, the Milwaukee Health Department has not issued any formal guidance on closures and instead business owners and the like should make decisions as they see fit.

As of Wednesday, four individuals are in voluntary quarantine, which lasts 14 days. Kowalik said the department is working with Milwaukee Public Schools and does not recommend closing schools at this time.

She added that the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, and everyone should take precautionary measures.

Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing also spoke at the press conference. Rohlfing said right now the main priority is preparation. He said that the emergency medical services (EMS) system is working together to make sure that Milwaukee stays protected.

Barrett said at the moment the best people can do is be proactive.