Former Milwaukee Health Commissioner Dr. Jeanette Kowalik worked with the Wisconsin Public Health Association and Milwaukee County to draft a city-wide resolution that declared racism as a public health crisis in July 2019. Kowalik is seen at Juneau Park in Milwaukee on Sept. 18, 2020. Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch
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Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

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Today we highlight a pair of stories examining the dangerous consequences of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

WisContext reporter Will Cushman examines how misinformation about COVID-19 is rapidly spreading across Wisconsin as a polarized populace increasingly takes cues from social media. As a result, officials must simultaneously defeat a pandemic and a parallel “infodemic” of false and misleading claims that downplay the severity of the disease.

In a separate story, Cushman looks at real and perceived imperfections in data that have fueled arguments from skeptics of public health regulations and muddled the public’s understanding of the pandemic. 

Cushman reported the stories in collaboration with Wisconsin Watch. Contributing to the reporting was Howard Hardee, a Madison-based freelance reporter and fellow for First Draft, an organization that trains journalists to detect and report on disinformation.

The report comes as Wisconsin set a new record for COVID-19 infections Friday (6,141), according to the Department of Health Services. The agency also reported 62 new deaths related to the disease, the second-highest daily death toll on record, pushing Wisconsin to 2,256 deaths during the pandemic.

Top Stories

Jeanette Kowalik was the health commissioner for the city of Milwaukee until September 2020, when she resigned citing racism and sexism on the job and the exhaustion of fighting misinformation about COVID-19. Kowalik is seen at Juneau Park in Milwaukee on Sept. 18, 2020. Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

‘Infodemic’ complicates Wisconsin’s public health fight against coronavirus WisContext/Wisconsin Watch 

Wisconsin’s plentiful COVID-19 data fuels insights, confusion as health officials learn on the fly WisContext/Wisconsin Watch 

Appeals court rules Wisconsin indoor gathering limits are ‘invalid and unenforceable,’ on same day order expires Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin chief health officer quits as COVID-19 rages Associated Press  

Amid surging COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, Dane County public health officials urge work from home Wisconsin State Journal 

Why Wisconsin football has canceled games due to COVID-19 while other Big Ten teams play on Wisconsin State Journal 

Nearly every Northland county sets infection records; steepest rise in Carlton County Duluth News Tribune 

Two Taylor County mink farms under quarantine after more than 5,000 animals died from COVID-19 Green Bay Press Gazette

‘Surge testing center’ at UW-Oshkosh aims to slow spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin with rapid results testing free and open to public Oshkosh Northwestern 

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“The more that is asked of our health systems, the less good we’re going to get at it and the more patients are going to have bad outcomes. … To think that in a country like the United States that we may have to start providing a less than stellar standard of care, or we’ll have to start rationing medical care, in this country, seems absolutely unfathomable.”

—  Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW-Health, as quoted by Channel 3000

“For each of these large gathering events, there’s many more small gatherings with friends, with neighbors, with extended families. Those can add up to be just as dangerous, just as problematic, with even more collective transmission than those single large events.”

— Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, as quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

“It’s also something we can do a whole lot about. We are not powerless. We can wear a mask. We can stay 6 feet apart.”

— Lieske Giese, Eau Claire City-County Health Department director, as quoted by the Leader-Telegram 

Data to note

WisContext offers these visualizations of Wisconsin’s startling trends in COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations.

Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us:

Street Angels tackles Milwaukee homelessness during health crisis Spectrum News 1

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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