After COVID-19 was confirmed in a student of Butternut School District, the School Board of Education voted Monday night to cease in-person education and transition to a fully virtual model from Oct. 29 to Nov. 6.
The transition is an effort to reduce the number of students coming into contact with one another until the quarantine period is over, according to district administrator Joseph Zirngibl. In-person classes will resume Monday, Nov. 9.
Students in grades 5-12 will have school computers sent home with them and will participate in live classes with their teachers as if they were in the classroom, according to Zirngibl. Younger students will continue through a mix of live classes with teachers and independent studies, based on the individual student's needs. These students will not be expected to spend the full school
day at a computer, according to Zirngibl.
COVID-19 numbers in county schools
As of Monday, 34 of Chequamegon School District's 688 students were in quarantine with two confirmed positives in students. The district currently has 125 students learning remotely.
Of CSD's 139 members of staff, five are quarantined. As of Monday, there were no current confirmed positives in staff.
Prentice School District had four students and one member of staff quarantined as of Oct. 23. The district had no current confirmed positives in students or staff as of that date. The district has a total of 361 students, 33 of which are learning remotely.
Phillips School District did not provide the Review with updated COVID-19 data in time for printing.
Beth Meyers, the 74th Assembly incumbent Democrat, believes the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects in Wisconsin are the No. 1 issue in the 2020 election and will remain a top concern for some time.
Meyers, 61, of the town of Russell in Bayfield County, is seeking her fourth term in the state Legislature, having first been elected in 2014.
"I make over 400 phone calls a week, and the No. 1 thing that I hear about is COVID. People are worried about having access to health care. They are worried about their neighbors," she said.
Meyers said she did not believe that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers overstepped his authority in issuing executive orders mandating the use of facemasks and limiting the number of customers in bars, restaurants and other businesses, despite Republican lawsuits challenging those orders.
"I think he has done everything he possibly can to make sure Wisconsinites are safe, but every time he tries to do something, the majority party moves in and takes the case to court," she said.
Meyers said the state has spent more than $2 million in defending lawsuits against COVID-19 orders.
"I wish that we could come to the same conclusion, that the COVID virus is with us and we need to figure out how to live with it safely until we can get a vaccine that works for everyone, and that will be a year-plus down the road."
Regarding the balance between personal freedom and the need to prevent the spread of the disease, she cited the experience of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who recently recovered from a bout with the coronavirus, as one of a person who had been in denial about the danger of the virus and needed a personal exposure to change his mind.
"He said 'I was wrong; I made a mistake, I should have taken this more seriously, I should have worn a mask.' I think it is unfortunate that people have to get to that stage, where they have to have the virus to see what the ramifications of that can be," Meyers said.
And political infighting is harming Wisconsin businesses, not helping them weather the pandemic, she said.
"Not only is the federal government gridlocked, it seems that the majority party in Wisconsin does not want to convene us to address the economic issues of the state," she said. "Coco's restaurant and bakery in Washburn comes to mind. They recently announced that they were closing. They will open again near Thanksgiving to do some baked goods and again at Christmas to do some Christmas cookies. But they can no longer function with the system they had in place," she said.
Meyers also said it is time for the state and nation to confront social justice issues, brought to the forefront by the police shooting deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. She said she is a strong supporter of police and fire departments, but some of the events taking place in the country are "heartwrenching."
"I look at the riots that happen across the nation, whether it is in Washington state or Portland or Kenosha, and I am just sick over the violence that is taking place, because that is not who we are, especially in Wisconsin," she said, accusing President Trump of inflaming the situation.
"He seems to lack empathy and compassion," she said.
Meyers called on people in neighborhoods to work together to make sure their residents are safe. She also called for police departments to have the equipment and skills they need to deescalate violent situations.
"But we need to also look at disparity in social issues, and how we can make sure that everyone is thriving in their communities," she said. "It is a big task to undertake, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Madison to work on these issues. But I do not suggest, and never will, that we defund police departments. That is divisive. I believe the solution is working together for everyone's sake."
On other topics, Meyers supports expansion of BadgerCare, saying the state should accept federal Medicare money to provide health care to more residents. She said the current low levels of reimbursement in the BadgerCare program are causing providers to opt out of the program, and that the state has not received $1 billion in federal Medicare funds because of the opposition of majority Republicans in the Legislature.
Meyers said another issue in her district is cell phone and high-speed Internet coverage.
"I am working on the governor's broadband expansion task force and my goal is to help small businesses by making sure we have 21st century technology in northern Wisconsin," she said, noting that $48 million had been put in the state budget for broadband expansion.
"We are going to use that money to make sure more people are connected in areas that are underserved," she said. "It is beyond time to make sure that we get our fair share of broadband money."
James Bolen, the Republican candidate for the 74th Assembly District, served as executive director for the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce from 2006 to 2019 but has not held public office.
Bolen, 52, said he was saddened to see the disturbances associated with protests against police brutality in Kenosha and Madison.
"There was a state senator who was assaulted and beaten," he said. "There are obviously a lot of passions on both sides of the issue, but I think what northern Wisconsin people want to see are these people coming together; our law enforcement agencies need to come together with some of these communities and have a discussion on what it is that is driving the passions they feel," he said.
Bolen said he gained insight into police matters as a member of the Bayfield County Dive Rescue Team.
"I've worked with law enforcement in some really difficult, challenging situations, and I can tell you the ones I have seen are fantastic law officers and they have done a really good job," he said. "Are there issues that need to be addressed within policing? Possibly, and I think that is something that we need to discuss."
Bolen said that discussion needs to be aimed at how to keep police and members of the community safe, as well as addressing the underlying issues that are causing disruptions.
"But I will say that there is no cause that is so just as to justify hurting other individuals, damaging property and things like that," he said. "We are all humans, we are all Wisconsinites and we should be working with compassion for everyone; as the Constitution says, everyone has equal rights under the law."
Bolen, again echoing pronouncements from state GOP leaders, said state government's mandates related to COVID-19 should have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We didn't know as much then as we know now," he said. "I get a little uncomfortable whenever the government tries to mandate that we do anything."
Bolen said he would prefer that the government have a comprehensive educational program and allow people the individual freedom to make their own decisions, as opposed to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his calls to shut down businesses to control the spread of the virus.
"As to whether he has overstepped his bounds, that is for the courts to decide, but I think what the people of the 74th District want is their government working," he said. "Rather than the governor issuing executive orders, going around the Legislature, I would much rather see them working together to come up with a comprehensive plan on how we are going to move forward. If government is going to step in and shut down the economy and force people to not be able to make their livelihood, at the very least they should make sure they can address those concerns that people are getting their unemployment benefits and the help they need when they've lost that revenue through no fault of their own."
Bolen also criticized Evers for not developing a comprehensive plan to deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus.
"The state of Wisconsin has to work within its fiscal means and that is going to be challenge," he said. "We really need to take a close look at what funds are going to be available to us and prioritize addressing the pandemic. As long as it is around, the pandemic will have an impact on our schools, on our economy, on businesses."
Bolen said many small businesses are suffering especially restaurants that have been forced to limit seating to 25% of capacity. He cited statements by the Restaurant Association to back that assertion.
"They said if this 25% rule stays in place, they expect about 50% of all small restaurants to close their doors, many forever," he said. "We are at the point where we could be losing a lot of these small businesses, and they are the lifeblood of our communities."
On other topics affecting the Northwoods, Bolen said broadband expansion has a major impact on economic development and he encouraged broadband development as the head of the Cable Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp.
He said because of the pandemic, many employees are now working from home _ possible in the district because of high-speed cable installed in recent years by the Norvado telephone company.
"We are seeing more and more how critical broadband is," Bolen said. "We need to do a better job of getting in to areas that don't have broadband now. We need to continue to invest in broadband, and I will fight very hard to make sure we get investment dollars for broadband in the 74th District."
On the controversial topic of accepting more federal money to expand BadgerCare, Bolen is opposed because he fears the federal government could walk away from the program and leave state taxpayers to cover costs.
A second death associated with COVID-19 was confirmed in Price County over the weekend as new case numbers continue rising.
As of Monday evening, Price County had 358 confirmed cases of the virus — up by 61 from last week. The previous week saw an increase of 45 new cases, and the week before that saw 44 new cases.
Price County currently has 55 active cases as 303 people have been listed as recovered.
There have been 33 hospitalizations in the county, up by seven from last week. Hospitals in the north central region of Wisconsin — which includes Price, Iron, Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Portage, Wood, Clark, and Taylor — are currently at 83% capacity in available beds. Hospitals in this region had a total of 139 COVID-19 patients as of Monday, 36 of which were in the intensive care unit and 26 of which were on ventilators to assist them in breathing.
The majority of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Price County, 31%, are between the ages of 80-90. Individuals between the ages of 30-39 account for 4% of all hospitalization in Price County; those age 40-49 account for 4%; age 50-59 account for 23%; age 60-69 account for 19%; and age 70-79 account for 19%.
Both of the Price County residents whose deaths have been associated with COVID-19 were hospitalized prior to passing away.
Price County Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards told the Review that both individuals were elderly, over the age of 70.
"In order for a death to be attributed to COVID-19, a medical examiner or coroner needs to examine the individual and make that decision," Edwards said. "[The virus] has to be related to the reason they died — if it played no part in how they died, it is not listed as a cause of death."
Edwards told the Review that there is at least one other individual in Price County who was positive for COVID-19 at the time of their death, yet it was not listed on their death certificate since it was determined the virus played no role in their death.
"The virus may not be the primary reason the person died, but it has to play a role [to
be listed as a cause]," Edwards said.
In general, Edwards said that the majority of Price County residents who test positive are symptomatic, and in general, she said the severity of symptoms reported appears to be increasing.
Price County Public Health released updated demographic information regarding the virus' spread in the county on Oct. 23, showing that the majority of cases — 76 as of that date — are affecting those between the ages of 60-69.
As of Oct. 23, 12 of Price County's test-confirmed cases were in children between the ages of zero and nine; 26 were in people age 10-19; 33 were in people age 20-29; 30 were in people age 30-39; 45 were in people age 40-49; 52 were in people age 5059; 39 were in people age 70-79; 15 were in people age 80-90; and one individual over the age of 90 was confirmed to have the virus.
As of Oct. 23, there had been 154 cases in individuals with a Phillips address (this also includes people in the surrounding rural area), 63 cases in Park Falls, 29 cases in Ogema, 24 cases in Prentice, 16 cases in Fifield, 13 cases in the Brantwood and Tripoli area, 12 in Kennan, 11 in Catawba, four cases in Price County residents whose address is Butternut, and three cases in county residents with a Rib Lake address.
State, regional cases continue rising
As of Monday, Wisconsin has had 201,049 confirmed cases of the virus — 41,067 of which were active as of that date, and 158,158 people have recovered. There have been 10,416 people who have been hospitalized statewide due to COVID-19, and 1,788 deaths. A total of 1,978,941 Wisconsinites have been tested and 1,777,892 tests have returned negative.
Case numbers and associated deaths continue to rise in the region.
As of Monday evening, Oneida County had recorded 1,202 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 367 of which were active as of that date. A total of 13 deaths have been attributed to the virus. The county has had 60 hospitalizations, 11 of which were current. There have been 811 recoveries and 11,835 tests have returned negative.
Taylor County has had 485 confirmed cases, 311 of which were listed as active on Monday. The county currently has four people hospitalized and has recorded seven deaths. A total of 3,677 tests have returned negative.
Ashland County had had 277 confirmed cases, but reported it is actively monitoring 303 individuals for the virus. There have been 12 hospitalizations and three deaths. A total of 6,306 tests have returned negative.
Vilas County has had 563 confirmed cases, 179 of which were active on Monday. There have been six hospitalizations — two current — and six deaths. There have been 379 recoveries and 5,907 tests have returned negative.
Lincoln County has had 756 confirmed cases, 104 of which were active. There have been 41 hospitalizations and 10 deaths. A total of 642 people have recovered and 7,101 tests have returned negative.
Rusk County has had 199 confirmed cases, 98 of which were active, resulting in three hospitalizations and one death. There have been 100 recoveries and 2,971 tests have returned negative.
Sawyer County has had 369 confirmed cases, 64 of which were active, resulting in 16 hospitalizations and three deaths. A total of 302 people have recovered and 5,379 tests have returned negative.
Iron County has had 189 confirmed cases, 18 of which were active, resulting in 13 hospitalizations and four deaths. A total of 171 people have recovered and 1,752 tests have returned negative.