Politics and the pandemic have converged in America and Wisconsin is the eye of the storm.
That didn’t stop Donald Trump holding a packed rally here on Tuesday. His vice president then held another rally on Wednesday.
Wisconsin was once considered a reliably Democratic state in America’s rust belt. A narrow win by Donald Trump in 2016 helped push him over the line and to the White House.
His campaign continues to blitz the state despite it now being the country’s epicentre for COVID-19 – and views couldn’t be more polarised.
“We are all 100% Donald Trump,” Rhonda Parker tells me. “Most of our friends and family, all but one family we know, we all vote for Donald Trump.”
Rhonda lost her father to COVID-19 in April. When she speaks of his quick deterioration and the trauma of being unable to say goodbye she gets emotional – you can see the sense of loss is still raw.
Other family members have also had the virus and six weeks ago Rhonda tested positive too – her sense of taste still hasn’t returned.
Even given what Rhonda’s family has been through she would have gone to the president’s Wisconsin rally had it been closer to her hometown of Appleton. Donald Trump has her unflinching support.
“I would go. I would go. We’re all a firm believer of Donald Trump,” says Rhonda. “My husband and I were just talking about it the other day. It’s kind of like the survival of the fittest. If you’re going to get it you’re going to get it… I mean sure he could have done better but nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. He’s not perfect. But Joe Biden’s not the answer.”
Working in manufacturing, Rhonda feels her life has benefited under a Trump presidency. The positives for her outweigh any question marks over his handling of coronavirus. “Before this pandemic came up my stocks were skyrocketing, our company was doing great. We didn’t know what to bid first, we had a lot of work.”
You don’t need to go far to find the polar opposite view.
Frontline healthcare workers are now bearing the strain of the state’s outbreak. Close to 90% of Wisconsin’s intensive care beds are full and a field hospital in Milwaukee has started taking in patients. The Holy Family Memorial Hospital in Manitowoc invited us to see their ICU which is at capacity.
“In September it skyrocketed,” says Chief Nursing Officer Tom Veeser. “I find it maddening. Some people say it’s going to go away on 4 November.
“As you see as you came through our hospital, these are not people who are political consequences. They are real sick people with real viruses and people not wearing masks are leading to more infections. We are still impacted everyday.”
Donald Trump ignored pleas from local doctors to cancel Tuesday’s rally in Wisconsin. Joe Biden still has a clear lead in the polls here and the president is sticking to a relentless rally schedule with just days to go until the election.
COVID outbreaks are already being traced to previous Trump rallies and as the virus escalates in the country, the stock market is tumbling.
While Wisconsin is breaking records for coronavirus, it’s also seeing records for voter turnout. A state rule means anyone who has voted early and dies of COVID-19 before the election will have their vote discounted.
Wisconsin – already at the forefront of the election battlegrounds – is now America’s COVID frontline too.