On Jan. 5, Karl Kelz took his oath of office, officially stepping into the district attorney role for Price County after being elected to a four-year term on Nov. 3, 2020.
A native of Illinois who has spent most of his life in Wisconsin, Kelz comes to the role with a lengthy background in the legal profession, beginning in 1999 as an attorney at a private law firm in the town of Mineral Point in southern Wisconsin. He then worked as an assistant district attorney in Marathon County for three years, was elected as district attorney in Taylor County where he served for 10 years, and spent the past eight years running his own private legal practice in Medford.
Prior to his career in law, Kelz served in the U.S. Army's military police and later as a deputy for the Dane County
Sheriff's Office — which is where he met his wife, Nancy, who also worked there as a deputy.
After years in law enforcement, Kelz said his interest in courtroom proceedings made attending law school a natural next step.
As a district attorney, responsible for conducting criminal prosecutions, Kelz will work closely with local law enforcement departments in order to determine if there is sufficient evidence to charge an individual with a crime, and what that charge should be.
Kelz said he sees a significant part of his role as also trying to prevent recidivism and repeat offenders.
"This is the kind of career where you don't want to see repeat business," he said. "We prosecute crime, someone has to pay their penance, so to speak, for their crime. But the goal is also not to see them back into my office, and to do what I can in the court system and with law enforcement to prevent that."
Kelz said there were several factors that led to his bid for the role of Price County DA, including a long professional relationship with the county's former DA Mark Fuhr (who now works as the assistant DA), his appreciation of the county's natural resources, and what he said has been a very welcoming community.
"There are a lot of advantages," Kelz said. "This election gave me the opportunity to come up here, resume my prosecutorial career and, bonus, work in a very lovely county."
Kelz pointed to the fact that Price County will now have both a district attorney and assistant district attorney as a positive for the area, offering greater resources in cutting down on crime. Additionally, Kelz's working relationship with Fuhr — which goes back to the start of their careers as district attorneys in training — will aid in that process.
Kelz closed his Medford law firm in December and has since relocated to Price County along with wife, Nancy.
The couple have two adult daughters: Mikayla, who is currently in her last semester of college at UW-Madison, and Bethany, who is serving in the U.S. Air Force in New Mexico. Kelz said both his daughters are very interested in politics, and Mikayla had the opportunity to intern at the White House in Vice President Mike Pence's office during the fall 2019 semester.
Twenty-one new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Price County residents between Jan. 4-11 — a new low in case numbers that surged locally in November and slowly began declining in late December and early January.
The death of a sixth individual as a result of complications due to coronavirus was confirmed during the last week.
Since the start of the pandemic, a total of 985 cases have been confirmed in the county, 27 of which were considered active as of Monday.
There were 93 COVID-19 tests administered for Price County residents between Jan. 4-11, with testing numbers still down since early December. The reason for the low testing numbers is unknown, according to Price County Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards, although she reported that testing remains available to citizens at the same rate.
Edwards noted that the number of close contacts per person who tests positive have decreased, which may be contributing to the seemingly reduced spread.
There were two county residents hospitalized due to the virus last week, which is also low compared to earlier weeks.
Hospitals throughout the north central region of the state remain at a high capacity rate, however, standing at 83% full as of Monday with 856 of the region's 1,029 hospital beds in use. As of that date, there were 93 patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and another four awaiting test results. There were 28 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and 43 patients requiring the aid of mechanical ventilation to breathe.
The statewide hospital capacity is slightly improved, standing at 79% full as of Monday with 8,655 of the state's 10,960 hospital beds in use. There were 973 patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, 219 of which were in intensive care units, and an additional 64 people awaiting testing results. A total of 467 patients statewide are on mechanical ventilators.
Neighboring county Oneida had confirmed 2,884 cases as of Monday, 174 of which were active. There have been 130 hospitalizations — 23 of which are current — and 47 deaths associated with the virus. A total of 2,640 people have recovered, and 16,747 have tested negative for the virus.
Lincoln County has confirmed 2,652 cases, 116 of which were active. There have been 104 hospitalizations and 49 deaths associated with the virus. A total of 2,487 people have recovered and 10,131 have tested negative.
Taylor County has confirmed 1,822 cases, 136 of which were active. There have been 66 hospitalizations — four of which are current — and 30 deaths. A total of 5,197 people have tested negative.
Vilas County has confirmed 1,815 cases, 155 of which were active. There have been 94 hospitalizations and 30 deaths associated with the virus. A total of 1,630 people have recovered and another 7,899 have tested negative.
Sawyer County has confirmed 1,295 cases, 70 of which were active. There have been 63 hospitalizations and 17 deaths associated with the virus. A total of 1,207 people have recovered and 7,338 people have tested negative.
Rusk County has confirmed 1,162 cases, 132 of which were active. There have been 74 hospitalization and 14 deaths associated with the virus. A total of 1,016 people have recovered and 4,370 have tested negative.
Ashland County has confirmed 1,061 cases. There have been 48 hospitalizations and 16 deaths associated with the virus, and 6,175 people have tested negative.
Iron County has confirmed 434 cases. There have been 27 hospitalizations and 18 deaths associated with the virus, and 2,269 people have tested negative.
Wisconsin has confirmed 508,346 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, 28,218 of which were active as of Monday. There have been 22,434 hospitalizations and 5,162 deaths, and a total of 474,830 people have recovered.
Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is underway in Price County, according to Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards.
Wisconsin is currently in the first stage of vaccine distribution, dubbed Phase 1a, during which healthcare personnel and residents and staff of longterm care facilities are the first groups eligible for receiving the vaccine.
Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus are currently in the process of vaccinating their own employees, and Marshfield — along with Price County Public Health — is also coordinating the vaccination of healthcare workers unaffiliated with either of these organizations, such as dentistists, home health workers, and others who want to receive immunization.
Long-term care facilities receive the vaccine through pharmacies contracted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A post published on Park Manor's Facebook page said that employees and residents received their first of two vaccinations on Jan. 8.
As of Monday, Marshfield Clinic reported the vaccine has been given to 123 Marshfield Medical Center-Park Falls providers and staff, representing 90% of their frontline staff.
Edwards noted that at this point, Price County is close to completing Phase 1a.
The second stage in the vaccine distribution, as laid out by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), is Phase 1b. ACIP recommends essential workers — including teachers, police, firefighters, corrections officers, utility workers, food and agriculture workers — be among the next group eligible for the vaccine, along with those age 75 and older, but the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee will have the final say on who will be included in this phase.
The date Phase 1b will be enacted is also in the hands of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee. While an exact start date for Phase 1b is unknown at this point, according to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is expecting a final decision by the end of the month.
During this phase, Price County Public Health will be offering the vaccine in addition to the local clinics.
The next stage recommended by ACIP is Phase 1c, during
which they recommend adults at high risk or over the age of 65 should receive the vaccine.
The final stage is Phase 2, when the vaccine will be eligible to the general public. The timeline for this is yet unknown, but Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporting indicated the Wisconsin Department of Health Services expected this may take place by early summer.
"When we do start offering the vaccine to the public, we'll let people know through press releases and Facebook, and then they can call Public Health so we can place an order [for the vaccine]," Edwards told the Review.
Distributing this vaccine is a somewhat elongated process, according to Edwards, which accounts in part for the slow timeline. Due to the newness of the vaccine, each person who is vaccinated is monitored for at least 15 minutes for any signs of an allergic response. Social distancing requirements also limit the number of people who can gather at any one time to receive the vaccine and undergo the monitoring period.
Distribution is further complicated by the very short shelf-life of the vaccine, which generally must be used within five days upon arrival.
Edwards said the local health department has no say over which vaccine — Pfizer or Moderna — they receive.