Local officials feel strain as Wisconsin’s coronavirus outbreaks worsen and state leaders stay paralyzed — 10/5/20

Today we highlight a story by the Appleton Post-Crescent about how Wisconsin’s statewide leaders have punted pandemic responsibilities to local officials — an enormous lift as COVID-19 cases continue to surge statewide, filling hospitals with patients. 

Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm last week hosted a conference call with local officials, asking local governments to take action against the virus, report Madeline Heim and Alex Groth. But some local officials questioned the effectiveness of a patchwork response to a global pandemic. 

“This pandemic has no boundaries,” Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert — a former Republican lawmaker — told the reporters. “Having that local response may not have an impact because of another community not doing the same type of cautious atmosphere.” Wisconsin remains one of the nation’s top virus hotspots, and Evers has expressed frustration about limits placed on his pandemic powers in May. That was when the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the Republican-controlled Legislature in striking down his administration’s Safer at Home order, leaving a few local governments to enact their own public health orders.

Trump’s COVID-19 test highlight’s pandemic’s grip on nation, cancels Wisconsin rallies — 10/2/20

Today we highlight the Wisconsin State Journal’s coverage of an early Friday announcement that shook up President Donald Trump’s campaign for reelection: That he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the couple into quarantine. 

“The diagnosis marks a major blow for a president who has been trying desperately to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is behind them even as cases continue to rise with less than four months before Election Day,” Mitchell Schmidt   reports. “And it stands as the most serious known public health scare encountered by any sitting American president in recent history.”

The positive test forced Trump’s campaign to cancel weekend rallies planned for Green Bay and Janesville. Local leaders had urged Trump to cancel the gatherings even before his Friday disclosure for fears that they would only speed the spread of coronavirus at a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations are surging in the state. Top Stories

Bill Glauber / Milwaukee Journal SentinelSussex Realtor Bob Tarantino addresses people April 24 in Delafield before they drove to Madison, where they participated in a rally protesting Gov. Tony Evers’ coronavirus restrictions that closed many businesses. Donald Trump cancels Wisconsin rallies after president tests positive for COVID-19 — Wisconsin State Journal 

‘Doesn’t seem like a big deal’: For a mask skeptic, news that Trump has COVID-19 doesn’t change things — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

As COVID-19 spikes, limits on courts could return under new Wisconsin Supreme Court order — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Sauk County health officer announces resignation, cites frustration with leadership — Baraboo News Republic

Judge blocks state release of employer COVID-19 data — WPR 

Federal money promised for businesses to rebuild after rioting is actually for coronavirus relief — Kenosha News 

‘Almost a perfect storm’: Nursing home residents face voting challenges amid pandemic — WTMJ-TV 

‘Critical staffing shortages’ prompt state to lift restrictions on out-of-state providers — Cap Times 

What are we missing?

Trump won’t rally in La Crosse. But Green Bay, Janesville events still planned despite COVID-19 concerns — 10/1/20

Today we highlight the USA Today-Wisconsin Network’s coverage of President Donald Trump’s shifting plans to rally in Wisconsin — a high-stakes collision of politics and public health in one of the nation’s top COVID-19 hot spots. 

“Trump moved a Saturday rally to Janesville after facing pushback from La Crosse officials for scheduling an event in their city, which is considered a ‘red zone’ of virus cases by his administration,” Haley BeMiller and Molly Beck reported Thursday afternoon. “But the president still plans to hold an event in Green Bay later that day despite calls from officials there to reconsider because of the city’s even higher rate of infection. And as soon as Trump announced the new rally in Janesville, county officials there asked him to cancel it.” 

Top Stories 

Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal SentinelMarquette University graduate students and faculty speak at a news conference Thursday in which they opposed the university’s plan to potentially cut hundreds of jobs. Trump moves rally to Janesville after La Crosse mayor asks him to cancel; event in Green Bay still planned — USA Today Network-Wisconsin 

As COVID-19 cases surge, communities weigh options for slowing virus’s spread — WPR 

Green Bay district shuts schools to all but essential workers because of COVID-19 spread — Green Bay Press-Gazette 

Economy will not recover until the virus is under control warns Federal Reserve Bank president — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

WMC files lawsuit seeking to block state’s plans to release information on businesses where multiple COVID-19 cases have occurred — Wisconsin State Journal

‘I wish they could see how bad things are getting’: As Wisconsin hospitals fill up with COVID patients, front-line workers sound the alarm —  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Marquette bracing for layoffs as COVID-19, projected enrollment declines dictate major changes — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

What are we missing? And how are you coping?

Wisconsin sees record daily COVID-19 death toll while hospitals fill with patients — 9/30/20

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Wednesday reported 27 new COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily death toll since the coronavirus began spreading in March. 

Wisconsin has now tallied 1,327 total deaths linked to the coronavirus, and it has become one the nation’s top virus hotspots in recent weeks. Eight Wisconsin metro areas remain on the New York Times Upshot’s list of worst outbreaks. The outbreaks are filling up hospitals, leaving some patients waiting or needing to be transferred, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. 

“Hospitals have been especially overwhelmed in Green Bay, Wausau and the Fox Valley, which are among the state’s latest COVID-19 hot spots,” report Mary Spicuzza, Madeline Heim, Renee Hickman and Meg Jones. 

“Officials at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, for example, said the facility was at 94% capacity as of Tuesday, just days before a Saturday campaign rally for President Donald Trump that could draw thousands of supporters to the city.”

Top Stories

STEVE APPS / STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVESMembers of the Wisconsin National Guard collect samples from people in their vehicles at a free community testing site for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center in May. Some hospitals forced to wait-list or transfer patients as Wisconsin’s coronavirus surge continues — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Wisconsin officials warn of dire COVID-19 scenario as cases spike, flu season nears — Cap Times 

Madison, Milwaukee teachers’ unions call for state order requiring virtual school — Cap Times 

State expects to address outdated unemployment system in next budget — Wisconsin State Journal 

With COVID-19 cases spiking in Brown County, local officials call for caution ahead of Trump rally Saturday in Green Bay — Green Bay Press-Gazette 

Boys & Girls Clubs closes 6 locations, forcing families to scramble for child care — Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service 

IRS estimates more than 111K Wisconsinites might have not claimed coronavirus stimulus checks — WPR 

What are we missing? And how are you coping?

Evictions damage public health, especially during a pandemic. How Wisconsin and the nation are trying to thwart a crisis — 9/29/20

Today we highlight our latest story about efforts to thwart an evictions crisis as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month ordered an unprecedented nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020, spotlighting a message experts have long preached: Housing stability and health are intertwined, 

The story follows renters in Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and elsewhere who are trying to avoid evictions, showing how even the threat of homelessness exacts a physical and mental toll. An estimated 4,000 households in Milwaukee alone have faced eviction since the pandemic began, data show. Wisconsin Watch/WPR reporter Bram Sable-Smith reported the story in collaboration with Martha Bebinger of WBUR and Darian Benson of Side Effects Public Media. In a related story, Princess Safiya Byers detailed what renters should know about the CDC’s moratorium, which has not fully halted evictions.

Audit: Workforce agency answered less than 1% of jobless benefits calls early in pandemic — 9/25/20

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development call centers answered just one out of every 200 calls from people seeking jobless benefits during a critical early stretch of the pandemic, according to a new state audit that further quantifies the agency’s struggles to serve unemployed Wisconsinites. From mid-March through June, 93.3% of 41.1 million calls were blocked or prompted busy signals, while callers abandoned an additional 6.2% of calls. That means less than 1% of callers reached a DWD representative about their claims, the Legislative Audit Bureau wrote in a report released Friday. 

The bureau also found that DWD officials in weekly updates reported incomplete data to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, failing to include millions of calls in which people got busy signals. The audit found that 19.6 million calls were either blocked or resulted in busy signals between late April and the end of June. 

The audit comes a week after Gov. Tony Evers ousted Caleb Frostman as DWD secretary, citing an ongoing backlog of unemployment claims that have left jobless residents waiting weeks and even months for aid. 

Responding to the audit, Deputy Secretary Robert Cherry accepted the bureau’s recommendations to improve recordkeeping and reporting of call center data, and highlighted the agency’s efforts to shift employees to call centers and expand their capacity during the pandemic. 

“Never has the state experienced such an incredible surge in claims so quickly,” Cherry wrote, but added that “lessons should have been learned” about call center vulnerabilities years ago. 

A 2014 state audit found that DWD call centers automatically blocked 80% of calls during times of high volume. 

For more on the state’s unemployment insurance crisis — and its impact on Wisconsinites — see our series Lives on Hold. Top Stories

STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL ARCHIVESCOVID-19 testing, like that done with help from Wisconsin National Guard members at the Alliant Energy Center in May, has cost $102 on average, according to a new report by Madison-based M3 Insurance.

Campus shutdowns during pandemic hurl new challenges at Wisconsin college voters — 9/24/20

Today we highlight a story by WPR about how college and university campus shutdowns during the pandemic are creating new obstacles for student voters ahead of the high-stakes presidential election. 

“The disruptions to campus life and the possibility that students could be sent home during the final stretch of the presidential election loom large over efforts to ensure students are ready to vote this fall,” Rich Kremer reports. 

“…Wisconsin’s voter registration rules dictate that a person must live at their current residence for 28 days in order to vote from that address. At most UW System campuses, dorm residents began moving in at the end of August, which means some are just becoming eligible to register this week if they want to change their voting address. Some UW students won’t be able to register their campus addresses until the first week of October.”

Angela Major / WPRUW-Madison student CJ Rockwell, left, is assisted by poll worker Clare Witkowski as he votes Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020, at UW-Madison. Pandemic, campus shutdowns add additional hurdles for Wisconsin’s college voters — WPR 

Aspirus leaders say central Wisconsin at “pivotal” point as COVID hospitalizations spike — WSAW-TV 

Answering your questions on rent and eviction during COVID-19  — WPR 

Wisconsin eviction rates have slowed during the CDC’s moratorium, but landlords are continuing to toss tenants — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Gov. Tony Evers calls on GOP lawmakers to lead by example and comply with state mask order — Wisconsin State Journal 

Why Wisconsin’s state and local coronavirus updates differ day to day — WisContext

College asks for off-campus gatherings to stop — WXOW-TV (La Crosse)

What are we missing? And how are you coping?