In Wisconsin, One of the First States to Reopen, Coronavirus Cases Are Declining

New cases of the novel coronavirus are declining in Wisconsin, a state that experienced significant controversy surrounding its reopening.

As the total number of virus cases in the U.S. surpassed 2 million on Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said the state's case count since the pandemic began reached 21,593, with 671 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

The 285 new cases state health officials reported Wednesday came just one day after the state reported its lowest percentage of positive tests so far, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Though the percentage of residents who tested positive increased from 1.9 on Tuesday to 2.8 on Wednesday, the percentage of positive tests has remained below 3 percent for the past several days as the state reported a two-week decline in new case numbers, the paper said.

Wisconsin Bars Reopen
Patrons at the Brat Stop, a bar and restaurant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on May 15. Images like this one drew quick criticism from Governor Tony Evers, who warned residents that the coronavirus was still a threat in the state. Scott Olson/Getty

The downward trend in cases is a positive sign for a state that was one of the first to reopen. Although Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, intended to extend the state's stay-at-home order past its April expiration date through May 26, the order received pushback from the GOP-led Legislature. The disagreement over whether the order could be extended escalated until it reached the Wisconsin Supreme Court in mid-May, where a 4-3 ruling determined it was "unlawful, invalid and unenforceable," thus striking it down.

The court's decision enabled businesses around the state to begin the process of reopening. While some virus precautions were still in place—including social distancing and facial covering recommendations—images of the first few days without the stay-at-home order went viral as state residents were seen crowded together in bars without masks or other facial coverings in sight.

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said during an interview with CNN last month the images "concern probably all of us" but noted that it was still important to continue reopening the state's economy. Meanwhile, the governor blasted the images of crowds that spread on social media, saying in an address to his constituents that deadly viruses "don't go away because the Supreme Court says so."

One week after the state Supreme Court's ruling, health officials reported Wisconsin's highest single-day increase in cases. While the state saw additional record increases in case counts in the following days, Wisconsin entered a downward trend in late May that has held for the past two weeks as businesses continue reopening.

Though Wisconsin's outbreak status appears to be improving, the same is not true of all states that have lifted their stay-at-home orders. In Texas, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reached record highs on each of the past three days, and states such as California and Florida have seen continued spikes in new cases.

According to virus data compiled by The New York Times, case counts were rising in 20 states earlier this week, concerning many health officials and government leaders about how soon and how quickly a second wave might arrive.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment before publication.