MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin National Guard has been mobilized to transport 37 Wisconsinites on board the Grand Princess cruise ship currently docked in Oakland due to a coronavirus outbreak, Brigadier General Joane Mathews said at a news conference Thursday.
Mathews said the National Guard received the request to mobilize from the Department of Health Services Wednesday. Up to 30 soldiers and airmen will serve as drivers to transport the 37 citizens back to their homes for self-isolation.
The flight carrying those 37 Wisconsinites will land at a location still to be determined, Mathews said. At that point they will be greeted by DHS personnel and National Guard drivers, who will transport them back home.
"This is not a security mission, and our soldiers and airmen will not be armed," Mathews said. "They are merely providing the manpower and drivers necessary to assist DHS in getting these citizens home safely and efficiently."
Out of an abundance of caution, the National Guard drivers will self-monitor for 14 days following the mission.
At the same news conference, Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
The declaration will direct the Department of Health Services (DHS) to use "all the resources necessary" to contain the outbreak, according to a news release from the governor's office.
“We have been working aggressively to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this declaration allows us to get the resources we need to continue to be proactive when it comes to protecting Wisconsinites,” said Gov. Evers. “It is the latest step in the work our state agencies have been doing around the clock with our health care partners to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic.”
The governor signed an executive order Thursday that will allow DHS to "purchase, store, or distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance or health coverage, as needed to respond to the emergency," the news release says.
The order also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs associated with isolation and quarantine - as well as the use of the Wisconsin National Guard.
“This can be a frightening time, but our state has incredible health professionals who are working to contain the spread,” Gov. Evers said. “We cannot do this alone, we need all hands on deck to protect the public from COVID-19.”
Over the last few days, Wisconsin has seen its number of active cases rise to 5. Two in Fond du Lac County, one in Waukesha County, one in Dane County, and one in Pierce County. Wisconsin also has 37 residents returning to the state from the Princess Cruise Ship, the governor's office says. Those residents may need to be self-quarantined for two weeks, the news release says.
Health officials also reiterated that residents should take simple steps to help prevent the spread of coronavirus:
- Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water.
- Covering coughs and sneezes.
- Avoiding touching your face.
- Staying home when sick.