In New York, the decisive moment came in March. In Arizona and other Sun Belt states, it struck as the spring turned to summer. In every state that has so far seen a large spike of COVID-19 cases, there has been a moment when the early signs of an uptick are detectable—but a monstrous outbreak is not yet assured. Can a state realize what’s happening, and stop a surge in time? Wisconsin is about to find out.
In the past week, Wisconsin has crashed through its own coronavirus records, reporting more cases and more COVID-19 hospitalizations than it has at any time since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. It now ranks among the top states in new cases per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is reporting more new cases, in absolute terms, than all states but California, Texas, and Florida.
Wisconsin’s outlook was deteriorating into the weekend. Yesterday, it reported more than 2,620 new cases of COVID-19, an all-time high. More than 540 people are hospitalized with the virus statewide.
The outbreak started about a month ago. It seemed, at first, like a product of students returning to college campuses. The University of Wisconsin at Madison brought back tens of thousands of students to campus in August. Within a week of classes starting, more than 1,000 of them tested positive, and the university shut down all in-person instruction. Other states in the Midwest saw similar spikes after colleges and universities restarted for the fall.