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Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald speak to reporters in Madison about the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer) Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald speak to reporters in Madison about the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald speak to reporters in Madison about the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke April 21, 2020

No, Wisconsin is not “clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections”

If Your Time is short

  • There are a lot of ways to slice coronavirus data, but this overreaches

  • New cases and deaths in the week before this claim were roughly in line with both the preceding week and the averages for the month of April. 

  • Hospitalizations were down from a week prior but flat the week before the claim.

As tends to happen in Wisconsin politics these days, the battle over re-opening the state is headed to the courts.

The state’s Republican-led Legislature filed suit April 21, 2020, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stop Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration from extending the stay-at-home order into late May. 

Evers had issued a "Safer at Home" order March 24, 2020, that restricted movement and business activity throughout the state through April 24. On April 16 that order was extended to May 26, 2020, this time signed by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald made their case for an injunction blocking Palm in a joint statement released the same day as the lawsuit. After referencing "public outcry" and condemning Evers for "unprecedented administrative overreach," the three-paragraph statement ends with this:

"The constant stream of executive orders … are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections."

We’ll leave the determinations on scope of authority to the courts, but the last bit of that is clearly a data-based claim.

Are infections "clearly" on the decline in Wisconsin?

Metrics are largely flat, not declining

At the time of the joint statement, COVID-19 had resulted in 242 deaths in Wisconsin, with 4,620 people testing positive for the disease.

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, said the decline claim was based on hospitalization data and the hospital resource usage estimated in a model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The oft-cited model, last updated April 17, projected Wisconsin’s peak resource usage to be somewhere between April 10 and April 18. It’s an estimate based on their formula, not a firm calculation based on actual figures. The model has drawn some criticism for its methodology, which experts say could make it ill-suited to help determine when to ease social distancing restrictions.

In any case, it doesn’t make much sense to rely on a predictive model when we have actual data to examine for Wisconsin. 

So we’ll do that, starting with the hospitalization numbers Beyer cited.

RELATED: No proof (yet) of a post-election "surge" in Wisconsin coronavirus cases

As with most datasets, labeling something an upward or downward trend depends entirely on which part of the data you pluck out. So here’s what we found looking at both recent days and the full month of April.

Featured Fact-check

HOSPITALIZATIONS

This is the lone metric that shows a decline over the last couple weeks.

After rising to start the month, the daily tally leveled off around 440 per day from April 9 to 14.

The number then dropped for two days before holding steady between 357 and 361 from April 17 to 21.

CONFIRMED CASES

The daily numbers move up and down a bit but have stayed largely consistent throughout April.

Zooming in to the last six days (April 15 to 20), Wisconsin had between 147 and 170 new confirmed cases per day. The tally was lower the days before that due to a lower number of tests being performed.

The most recent tally released prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald was April 20, with 153 cases, up six from the day before. That’s on par with the April average of 157 new cases per day.

DEATHS

Wisconsin has averaged 10.7 coronavirus deaths per day throughout April, with daily tallies ranging from six to 19.

The week prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald, Wisconsin averaged 10.9 deaths, including 10 on April 20.

Our ruling

Vos and Fitzgerald said the state is "clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections."

There are a lot of ways to slice the coronavirus data, but this is an exaggeration.

New cases and deaths in the week before this claim were roughly in line with both the preceding week and the averages for the month of April. Hospitalizations had dropped somewhat from the week prior, but were holding steady for the five preceding days.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Wisconsin Assembly GOP, Wisconsin Legislature Takes Gov. Evers to Court, April 21, 2020

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, COVID-19 projections for Wisconsin, updated April 17, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, GOP lawmakers ask Supreme Court to block Tony Evers' order to stay home, April 21, 2020

STAT, Influential Covid-19 model uses flawed methods and shouldn’t guide U.S. policies, critics say, April 17, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tracking coronavirus in Wisconsin, accessed April 21, 2020

Wisconsin Hospital Association, COVID-19 Situational Awareness Update, April 21, 2020

Email exchange with Kit Beyer, spokeswoman for Robin Vos, April 21, 2020

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No, Wisconsin is not “clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections”

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