FRI AM News: In-person voting expected to contribute to spread of COVID-19; WisBusiness: The Podcast with Scott Hoffman of WIN Technology

— Jeff Weber, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, says Tuesday’s in-person voting will “undoubtedly” lead to a spike in the COVID-19 infection rate.

“We have nurses and other health care workers who will die because of the work they do,” Weber said during a webinar hosted by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee. “Everyday, we are on the front lines, and this pandemic is about to get far, far worse because of what we witnessed Tuesday.”

Moore said holding in-person voting during the viral outbreak was “absolutely unnecessary,” ripping the move as “one of the most cruel tricks pulled out of the Republican playbook in their very full quiver of tricks to suppress the vote.” She also thanked front-line health care workers for putting themselves in harm’s way to keep people healthy.

“The damage this will cause, we are not ready for it,” Weber said. “We have barebones staffing, insufficient infrastructure and equipment, and a lack of care for the health care workers themselves.”

Moore also touched on some of the factors leading to African-Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere dying from the virus at higher rates than other groups.

“If you live in the inner city, you have housing conditions that don’t necessarily allow you to social distance as well as other places,” she said. “When you consider the dearth of health care, the lack of health insurance, the underlying health problems — asthma, diabetes.”

Despite these challenges, Moore sees an opportunity for positive change amid the current uncertainty. As more information is gathered about the disproportionate impacts of the virus, she said “it opens the door to a larger discussion about really addressing health care disparities.”

See more: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Scott Hoffmann, CEO of WIN Technology. WIN lays the fiber optics network for businesses such as internet providers companies, cell phone companies and hospitals.

WIN recently released a 90 percent discount for nonprofits and educational institutions to use Perigon, its webinar platform. Hoffmann noted that the webcasting technology can hold up to 50,000 audience members. 

He said the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce used Perigon to address the community about the state’s stay-at-home order. 

“We realized that we had a product in Perigon that really could help keep people connected to information,” said Hoffmann. “We recognized that not-for-profits are extremely stressed right now, and it just felt like this was the right thing to do to try to assist in a time of need.” 

Hoffmann said WIN experienced an up to 20 percent increase in internet capacity demands. 

“That is balanced with the fact that a lot of businesses that are closed aren’t using internet, but it’s counterbalanced with a lot of people now at home,” he said. “We’ve seen the surge in evening WebEx activity, we’ve seen the surge in residential demands for internet that flow through our network and into rural areas.”

Listen to the podcast: 

See a full list of podcasts, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is seeing claims “more than twice the highest amount of any week during the Great Recession.”

“Over the past four weeks as the nation has reeled from record setting unemployment, DWD has seen unprecedented historic call volume as well as initial claim volume in our unemployment insurance area,” said DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman in a Department of Health Services Facebook Live update.

In DWD’s peak week two weeks ago, there were 116,000 initial claims, “more than twice the highest amount of any week during the Great Recession,” and DWD has processed up to 25,000 claims a day and experienced 100,000 calls per hour, according to Frostman.

According to a release from DWD, between March 15 and April 6, the total number of new applications submitted for unemployment benefits was 313,068 and the total amount of benefits distributed was $68,759,104. 

At the same time last year, the total number of new applications was 17,748 and the total number of unemployment benefits distributed was $39,597,111. 

“The fact that initial claims ballooned by more than 1600 percent illustrates the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and its effect on our economy,” said Frostman.

To address the historic volume, DWD has trained and transferred up to 80 staff to its unemployment insurance division (UI) and plans to hire 36 new staff. One hundred and fifty of the UI’s employees are working overtime.

“We’ve also made significant improvements to IT and telecom systems to prevent early morning crashes which we continue to examine, improve and expand,” said Frostman.

This includes a two-week time extension to complete application filing in addition to several website updates.

See the release:

— A coalition of business groups, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, is asking Gov. Tony Evers to set a “firm” date to begin reopening the state’s economy as the guv’s stay-at-home order expires later this month.

In a letter, the trade groups and chambers of commerce argued that “no one expects that our economy would go back to ‘business as usual’ on April 24.” But choosing a date would allow businesses to prepare a “strategic and well-planned approach” to put the economy back on track. That includes time to recall furloughed employees, restock supplies and re engage supply chairs.

In the letter, the business groups noted the state’s unemployment rate is estimated at around 13.4 percent, which would be a state record. 

“Businesses and their employees find themselves in times of unprecedented hardship and uncertainty,” they wrote. “Wisconsin needs to bring certainty to workers and businesses alike by setting a firm date to begin the process of reopening our economy on April 24 — the end date for the Safer at Home order.”

The guv’s office didn’t immediately respond yesterday afternoon to a request for comment.

Speaking more broadly about the eventual return to normal, DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said the goal is to “get to a place where we are very actively managing this outbreak with tools we have like contact tracing, like testing, to manage it in an active way so that folks can begin to return to normal life and normal business.”

“I do not think folks should expect that we’re going to flip a switch and that’s all going to happen at once,” she said yesterday during a Department of Health Services Facebook Live event. 

See the letter:

— Wisconsin county health departments report 113 deaths in Wisconsin due to COVID-19, while the Department of Health Services reports 2,885 confirmed cases. 

That’s 12 more deaths and 129 more cases since yesterday. 

Of those confirmed cases, 29 percent have been hospitalized, according to DHS.

Counties reporting the most deaths are Milwaukee (67), Dane (11), Ozaukee (8) and Waukesha (6). 

Washington County reports three deaths.

Fond du Lac, Outagamie, Racine, Rock, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.  

Kenosha, Iron, Buffalo, Columbia, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each. 

Fifteen labs in Wisconsin are running tests with a 3,353-test capacity, according to DHS Secretary Andrea Palm.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable disease, said in a DHS Facebook Live that “tests are more accessible.” 

He said they are “getting the word out to health care providers” including a memo sent out this week for providers to “use their judgement on whether a test is beneficial for a patient.”

Thirty-eight percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50- 69. This is followed by people 40-49 (16 percent).

In Wisconsin, women make up 53 percent of the confirmed cases, but account for 38 percent of deaths. Meanwhile, men make up 47 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 62 percent of the total deaths. 

As to when things can get back to normal, Palm said that the goal is to “get to a place where we are very actively managing this outbreak with the tools we have like contact tracing, like testing, to manage it in an active way so that folks can begin to return to normal life and normal business.”

“I do not think folks should expect that we’re going to flip a switch and that’s all going to happen at once,” she said. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 

— Wisconsin hospitals are currently treating 446 patients for COVID-19 with less than half of those in ICU, according to a new update from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

The update includes stats such as the number of intensive care beds available — about one-third of the 1,311 the state has — and other information that Republican lawmakers have been clamoring for amid the pandemic.

For example, state hospitals also have 1,233 general use bedside ventilators with 330 ventilated patients.

A WHA spokesman said the summary is a collaboration with the state Department of Health Services to make the information more widely available.

See the update:

— Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond explains why “herd immunity” — when at least 60 percent of a population is immune to an infection from either a vaccine or prior illness — is “not a good idea” for battling COVID-19

He noted that the method would cause a wave of illness and death that will overwhelm health systems and that there are still too many unknowns of how COVID-19 affects people. 

“My bottom line — this approach is a bad idea,” he said in a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce webinar. 

But there is unlikely going to be a vaccine for at least the next 12 months, according to Raymond. 

“It might be reasonable to find a middle path to release some restrictions on our businesses,” he said referring to the stay-at-home order and herd immunity. “It needs to be carefully considered; we don’t today have sufficient data to make those decisions.” 

Raymond said while Wisconsin may not know the effects of in-person voting on coronavirus spread until next week, the religious observations happening this weekend could have additional repercussions. 

“People are going to make choices to either socially distance or to congregate and what impact that might have,” he said. “We’re trying to be cautious and just think about what contingencies might influence the decisions that we’re going to make and we just don’t know.”

— Foxconn is reporting to the state that it employed enough workers last year to qualify for state tax credits under the agreement established under then-Gov. Scott Walker.

A letter sent from Foxconn to WEDC chief Missy Hughes says the company directly employed more than 550 full-time employees at the end of the 2019 reporting year. Plus the letter points to the company’s economic impact on southeast Wisconsin, adding more than 100 different companies are involved with developing the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park.

The contract with the state shows Foxconn had to have a minimum of 520 full-time jobs in the state by the end of 2019 to qualify for job creation tax credits.WEDC expects to have an auditor’s report on Foxconn’s latest annual project summary in mid-May.

But the Evers administration has raised concerns about whether the project meets the terms of the contract. Since many details of the project have changed, the Evers administration has questioned if Foxconn can still earn tax credits under the agreement, regardless of how many jobs are created.

“Our conversations with Foxconn about aligning the contract with the project continue,” Hughes said in a statement. “It is WEDC’s objective to do so in order to support the project.”

Once the independent audit is completed, WEDC will review that report along with the company’s latest project overview. The process is expected to take several months.

See Foxconn’s letter to Hughes:

— The Evers administration clarified that churches and religious entities may still conduct services under his stay-at-home order, though those conducted inside must be limited to 10 people at a time.

Amid demands to make sure churches and synagogues can host services this week, the administration also said services can, for example, be offered in parking lots with congregants staying in their vehicles to avoid person-to-person contact.

The guv’s statement also came after complaints that local law enforcement was trying to discourage services.

“To be clear, we are not asking law enforcement to supervise or take enforcement steps against religious gatherings,” Evers wrote on Twitter. “Rather, law enforcement has been working hard to help congregations understand the order and take precautions to keep themselves and their members safe.”

This week, Leg Council produced a memo in response to state Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, stating religious gatherings held in unconfined outdoor spaces will not be limited in the number of people allowed under the guv’s order.

The memo says that the limit of 10 people or fewer applies only to gatherings held in a room or confined space, even if it’s outside. As long as the outdoor space is not confined or considered a room, the limit doesn’t apply.

Still, religious service attendees are being encouraged to follow standard social distancing guidelines as much as possible.

According to the memo, these rules apply for drive-up church services.

“The people of WI have no clear guidance from day-to-day on how to live their lives, run their biz, or worship God,” Craig tweeted yesterday. “We can’t sit & refresh our Twitter feeds waiting for the latest vague edict from @GovEvers telling us how to live our lives. The Legislature must stop this madness!”

Before Evers’ statement, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty called on him to “clarify, correct and restrain” local government officials who have reportedly banned such services planned for this weekend. In response to the guv confirming churches can hold outdoor and open gatherings, WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said he hopes local officials take notice and “immediately cease” attempts to prohibit these services.

WILL argues these local bans conflict with the order and with religious protections provided by the state constitution.

See the memo:

— The Small Business Association’s lead economic specialist in Wisconsin is encouraging business leaders to “apply early” to the Paycheck Protection Program created under the CARES Act. 

Tammie Clendenning said more than 400,000 loans have been approved for the program, accounting for about $100 billion in total loan volume. 

“As of yesterday, it continues to grow,” she said during a webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council. “Banks are continuing to work with borrowers, taking applications.” 

Around $349 billion in total has been allocated to the program, which aims to help employers keep workers on the payroll. It’s meant for business with 500 employees or fewer. 

“I know Congress is talking about adding additional funds, but again, we can talk about what we know today,” she said. 

In the meantime, she said businesses are being urged to track their expenditures to allow for loan forgiveness for certain essential costs. Based on conversations with accountants and consultants, she said businesses are being told to put any PPP loan funds in a separate account. 

“That way, if they haven’t been able to use all those funds for the purposes allowed, they can pay that back,” she said. 

See more on the program: 


# Wisconsin coronavirus infection, death rates point to black health disparities

# SC Johnson doubles its commitment to fight COVID-19 to $10 million

# IRIS USA to invest $10 million into face mask production in Pleasant Prairie

# Coronavirus continues to hit hard in Milwaukee



– Kohl: Farm market recovery will take group effort


– Wisconsin Bank & Trust, sister banks processing $1.5 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans

– Milwaukee-area bankers offer tips for Paycheck Protection Program applicants


– Wisconsin unemployment claims dropped last week, but there’s little room to celebrate

– Milwaukee housing market feels crunch as listings decline, but it’s not all bleak


– New Edgewood College president will take over amid budget problems, coronavirus crisis


– Some Milwaukee-area business owners find navigating SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program confusing


– Nearly 70% of Foxconn’s Wisconsin employees started in fourth quarter of 2019

– Foxconn potentially eligible for $45 million in tax credits for jobs and capital investments


– Work begins on alternative care facility at State Fair Park

– Children’s Wisconsin physician recovers from COVID-19, donates plasma for potential treatment

– ‘Stretched to their limits’: Wisconsin nurse practitioner lends help in NYC’s coronavirus fight

– DHS: 2,885 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin


– By the numbers: Mass layoffs in Wisconsin attributed to COVID-19


– Harley-Davidson to hold virtual annual meeting, acting CEO says More Roads plan is working


– 88Nine Radio Milwaukee names new executive director


– Zilber plans new industrial building in Granville corporate park

– Milwaukee senior apartment complex sold for $8.6 million


– Gov. Tony Evers orders closure of 40 state parks to prevent coronavirus spread

– Evers closes 40 Wisconsin state parks, recreational areas


– Feigin: Milwaukee Bucks preparing for new reality caused by COVID-19


– Roehl Transport looking to hire 250 Wisconsin truck drivers


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Xcel Energy: Donates an additional 192,000 surgical masks to workers battling COVID-19

We Energies, WPS: Peregrine falcons welcome more than a dozen early Easter eggs

MobCraft Beer and Great Lakes Distillery: Announce boilermaker series with virtual cocktail lesson