By Rich McKay and Lisa Shumaker
(Reuters) – As Wisconsin battled one of the worst coronavirus surges in the United States, a judge on Monday reinstated an order by the administration of Governor Tony Evers limiting the size of indoor public gatherings at bars, restaurants and other venues.
The Democratic governor’s emergency directive to stem new COVID-19 infections in the state put a 25% capacity limit on the number of people who may gather indoors until Nov. 6. It was challenged in court by bar owners and others shortly after it was issued on Oct. 6, and blocked by a judge on Oct. 14.
Sarah Kleban, 19, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who works as a waitress back home in Milwaukee, said she depended on tips from patrons to make ends meet, but still sided with the governor.
“A 25% limit really hurts, but I think we need to put people’s safety first,” Kleban said. “If we have to choose between wages or safety, we have to be safe.”
Wisconsin, one of several battleground states in the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, is scrambling to contain a resurgence that officials fear could overwhelm the state’s hospitals.
“This critically important ruling will help us prevent the spread of this virus by restoring limits on public gatherings,” Evers said in a statement.
A national group representing nursing home administrators on Monday warned that they were starting to see an acceleration in coronavirus infections among their highly vulnerable residents that parallels the increases in the general population.
Nursing homes, which were devastated in the early weeks of the pandemic last spring, could soon experience a third spike in cases, said the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.
Wisconsin is one of five states where more than 20% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive. Local health officials last week warned about “very intense community spread in all age groups” as they announced a string of grim records.
Even so, a field hospital erected at fairgrounds outside Milwaukee to treat COVID-19 patients should local hospitals run out of beds remained empty as of Sunday, according to Wisconsin health authorities.
In New Mexico, the governor warned on Monday that the state’s healthcare resources might not be sufficient if coronavirus cases continue to rise at the current pace.
“If COVID-19 continues to exponentially spread like last week, New Mexico will not have the health care and hospital capacity for every New Mexican who needs care,” Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, wrote in a tweet.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States last week rose 13% to more than 393,000, approaching levels last seen during a summer peak, according to a Reuters analysis.
Thirty-four of 50 states have seen cases increase for at least two weeks in a row, up from 29 the prior week.
They include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina — all swing states in the U.S. election, in which the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has become a critical issue.
Deaths fell 2% to about 4,900 people for the week ended Oct. 18, according to the analysis of state and county reports. Since the outbreak started, nearly 220,000 people in the country have died and over 8.1 million have become infected.
After coronavirus infections in nursing homes dropped for seven consecutive weeks from a peak of 10,125 in late July, the number of cases rose in the final week of September, according to data cited by the nursing home association, which represents more than 14,000 facilities.
COVID-19-related deaths at nursing homes have been trending lower from 3,222 per week in late May to 1,060 at the end of September, the group said.
“We could still see another wave of COVID cases caused by the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S., given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus,” AHCA/NCAL President Mark Parkinson said in a statement.
The group said its member nursing homes need more testing supplies, personal protective equipment and staff to prevent a new outbreak.
Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting and writing by Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brian in Chicago and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall.