An explosive rise of Covid-19 cases in Wisconsin is worsening, overwhelming health services and especially hitting hard the northeastern region, putting in peril Donald Trump’s ability to win this key battleground state.
This week, the dire situation pierced the sanctity of Wisconsin’s Holy Grail: The Green Bay Packers announced an indefinite hold on fans entering Lambeau Field until infections and hospitalizations drop, alienating a fanatical, devoted fan base known for packing the stadium even in the most frigid, sub-zero weather. It also delivers a blow to the local economy that benefits from millions of dollars per game. Data show the Green Bay area has the highest coronavirus infection rate of any market in the NFL.
Just after the Packers’ announcement, Joe Biden’s campaign directly linked Green Bay’s decision to Trump, blasting out an endorsement from the team’s former Hall of Fame coach Mike Holmgren.
“We are now months into this crisis, cases are surging across Wisconsin, and President Trump still doesn’t have a plan to get the virus under control,” Holmgren said in a statement. “It didn’t have to be this bad. Joe Biden has a real plan to beat this pandemic, invest in the working class, and help Wisconsin’s economy recover. Joe will always level with the American people — he’s a man of integrity, and now more than ever, we need him in the White House.”
Holmgren’s statement exacerbated criticism aimed at Republicans in the state, who dominate both chambers of the state Legislature. They were already under fire for doing little to help work with Gov. Tony Evers to contain the spread, including forcing an in-person primary election during an early peak of the pandemic in April and forcing a repeal of a stay-at-home order. On Friday, the day that Trump was hospitalized after reporting an infection himself, Wisconsin Republicans moved to repeal Evers’ mask mandate.
“We all agree we need to follow CDC guidelines as it relates to COVID19 regarding social distancing and masking up,” Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted on Monday. “We should also all agree that our state constitutions should not allow Governors czar-like powers no matter how serious the situation.”
The Packers, who have six more scheduled home games, had not permitted fans to either of their first two home games. Of the 32 NFL teams, 12 have allowed fans in their stadiums for at least one game, with the largest crowd being 25,021 for the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur made a public plea in comments to mask up.
“We’ve got to wear a mask, and we would certainly appreciate it if everybody in this community follows suit, because I think everybody enjoys watching the Green Bay Packers, and for that to continue, we need people to do their part.” LaFleur said.
What’s troubling for Republicans is on Wednesday a new Marquette Law School poll showed more than 60 percent of those surveyed supported a mask requirement. That support has held steady since last month and even saw a bump in the Green Bay-Appleton area, the epicenter of the latest Covid surge. In that same poll, Trump again failed to gain ground in Wisconsin, with Biden holding the lead at 46 percent to Trump’s 41 percent.
Trump won by less than 23,000 votes in Wisconsin in 2016, powered by high margins in rural counties and dominance in swing areas around places like Green Bay, which is in Brown County. He needs to do the same or better in some of the areas hit hardest by Covid now, if he is to eke out another win here.
Wisconsin’s death count swelled 238 percent in the past 14 days, with a total of 1,410 deaths, according to a New York Times database. This week, the state ordered a limit on public gatherings. And announced it would open a field hospital on state fairgrounds to handle overflow. Last week, Brown County medical systems officials pleaded for help, saying they were overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, Republicans accused Democrats — as well as the former Green Bay coach — of politicizing a deadly pandemic.
“We are not surprised that Democrat Mike Holmgren endorsed a Democrat, and, of course, he would take a play out of the Democrats’ playbook and politicize Covid-19,” Wisconsin GOP Chairman Andrew Hitt said in a statement to POLITICO. “Instead of playing politics, President Trump has delivered over $2B to Wisconsin through the Cares Act, he has moved PPE into Wisconsin to ensure we have the resources we need, and he provided $9B in PPP loans to over 85,000 businesses.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager assailed Evers and Democrats for “failed leadership” and accused them of espousing “draconian policies.”
“The President has mobilized an unprecedented effort between the public and the private sectors to fight the virus, offering the full support of the federal government to states in need, including Wisconsin,” she said.