FRI AM News: WisBusiness: The Podcast features Wisconsin Paper Council, Verso; Fincantieri Marinette Marine to build frigate for U.S. Navy

— Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at UW-Madison, said the key to preventing the next pandemic begins with understanding the “importance of the environment.”

Patz and other UW-Madison scientists and researchers came together virtually Thursday evening to share their work on COVID-19 during the Wisconsin Alumni and Research Foundation’s “Crossroads of Ideas.”

According to Patz, “unnatural” environments, such as the live animal markets in China, made it easy for pathogens to spill over from species to species and result in the coronavirus pandemic.

Human incursions into nature and environmental disturbances such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and illegal wildlife trading “have actually primed the pump for the current pandemic.”

“It actually did not surprise many of us in this area that this happened,” said Patz. “The question is: How do we avoid the next pandemic? We have to understand the importance of the environment… Our own health is inextricably linked to the health of ecosystems.”

Read the full story at 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast,” features Scott Suder, president of the Wisconsin Paper council, and Sam Miller, operations manager at Verso.

The Wisconsin Paper Council supports roughly 30,000 people who work in Wisconsin’s paper and forestry sector. Verso is a leading producer of specialty papers, packaging and pulp in Wisconsin Rapids.

Store shelves are proof that paper products such as toilet paper and paper towels are in high demand. And our current pandemic has also called for more personal protective equipment for frontline and essential workers. 

To keep up with increases in demand, Suder said manufacturers producing those items “are working 24/7 to make sure that their supply chain, and the manufacturing and the transportation and technology work streams are operating at peak capacity.”

As an essential business, paper manufacturers also had to rethink their safety procedures to keep workers feeling safe and healthy, an “emotional” task with rapid changes, according to Miller.

In addition to using guidance from CDC and WHO for best workplace practices, Miller said Verso is “communicating with our membership, engaging them to look for different ideas and creative ways to continue to operate while doing it with state health practices.”

Suder said the council also provides safety guidance. But the council has focused more on making sure paper manufacturing is labeled as essential and the supply chains are continuing to run as Wisconsin moves towards a new normal.

“It’s forced us to become more flexible, to get into different markets and try different things,” said Miller. “In some of the areas where our markets declined, I expect that to bounce back.”

Listen to the podcast: 

— The U.S. Department of Defense selected Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a Wisconsin-based shipbuilding group, for a nearly $800 million contract to build the first-in-class guided missile frigate for the U.S. Navy.

The contract is a potential value of $5.5 billion if FFM “if all options are exercised” including to build and deliver up to 10 ships, post-delivery availability support, engineering and class services, crew familiarization, training equipment and provisioned item orders. That would mean a possible addition of 1,000 employees in Marinette.

Rep. John Nygren, a Marinette Republican, praised the contract. 

“This is a monumental moment for Wisconsin and speaks to the highly skilled individuals that live and work in Wisconsin,” he said in a statement. “This contract will obviously have a huge impact on Northeast Wisconsin’s economy, but the impact will be felt throughout Wisconsin.”

This announcement follows a $31 million commitment from the state in the FMM shipyard to support worker training and infrastructure to meet the Navy’s manufacturing expectations, according to a release from Gov. Tony Evers. That included a $29 million investment through the state Department of Transportation’s harbor assistance grant program for the Port of Marinette.

“This is great news, not only for the folks at Marinette Marine, but for the entire Marinette community and state economy,” said Evers. “I’m proud of the work that was done at the local, state, and federal levels to make this happen, and look forward to Marinette Marine being part of the Wisconsin family for generations to come.” 

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Green Bay Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also praised the “massive win” for Northeast Wisconsin.

“For years we have worked to put Fincantieri Marinette Marine in a position to build the Navy’s new frigate and now, thanks to the hard work and unparalleled skill of their workforce, they will do just that,” said Gallagher in a statement. “This is a reminder that Northeast Wisconsin always answers the call to serve the country, and that the true strength of this country is found in communities just like ours.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin sang a similar tune, announcing her pride in representing the state’s shipbuilding industry. 

“This is a big win for our Made in Wisconsin economy right now and it will support thousands of skilled workers at the Marinette Marine shipyard,” she said in a release. 

According to a release from FMM, the Navy plans to build 20 ships as part of the future frigate program. FMM will build an adapted variant of the Italian FREMM, otherwise known as “European multi-purpose frigate.”

“When we began this journey nearly two years ago it was with the belief that there was a place for new ideas, new platforms and new partners in an already talented U.S. shipbuilding industry,” Fincantieri Marine Group CEO Dario Deste said in a statement. “Today’s announcement validates that thinking.”

See the release: 

See Nygren’s statement:

See Evers’ statement: 

See Gallagher’s statement:

See Baldwin’s statement: 

— Brown County officials are opening a new COVID-19 drive-in testing site this afternoon for employees of critical industries. 

According to Claire Paprocki, public health strategist for the county, the site is being created at the Resch Center in coordination with the Wisconsin National Guard and the state Department of Health Services. 

“We put in a request to DHS and Gov. Evers for the additional testing supplies … We received about 2,500 testing kits, so we’re going to use those to target that specific population,” she said yesterday during a call with reporters. 

Paprocki explained that employees of long-term care facilities, group housing, health care facilities and workers in non-medical industries are eligible to be tested at the new site. But she noted they would still need a doctor’s order to be tested. 

That’s different from the testing situation for employees at large meatpacking facilities in the county. For example, workers at JBS Packerland had been tested when coming in for shifts whether they showed symptoms of the virus or not, Paprocki said.

JBS resumed testing employees of the Packerland facility yesterday, though county officials wouldn’t comment on if the facility will be reopened following President Trump’s executive order mandating meat and poultry plants stay open. 

In response to an inquiry on potential plans to reopen its Green Bay plant, JBS USA Head of Corporate Affairs Cameron Bruitt provided a statement thanking the Trump administration for acknowledging the role of food businesses and protecting food supply chains. 

“The men and women who feed America have gone unnoticed for far too long. The country is now rightly focused on their essential role in keeping grocery shelves stocked and helping feed families across our nation every day. Their health and safety remains our primary focus. To us, they have always been essential.” 

As testing has continued at the meatpacking plants in Brown County where outbreaks were identified, American Foods Group is now reporting 179 employees are infected with COVID-19, and 32 more cases have been linked to the facility. 

The latest numbers from JBS Packerland are 290 infected workers, 58 linked cases. Salm Partners’ numbers are unchanged with 35 employees who’ve tested positive for the virus. 

The number of linked cases to JBS was previously reported as 86, and Paprocki didn’t have a clear explanation for why that number is lower in the company’s latest update. The company did not immediately respond to requests for clarification. 

“We’re continuing to update the data on a daily basis; again it’s a manual number that’s pulled,” Paprocki said. “So it could mean a number of different things.” 

Following the president’s executive order targeting meat plants, she explained that “closure of any of the plants is not on the table, we’re not discussing that.” Still, she said county officials are continuing to work with partners at the CDC and DHS to ensure facilities are following federal guidelines. 

Testing supplies remain a limiting factor in the county’s response, and Paprocki said officials would move forward with more widespread testing if they had the resources to do so. 

“We make requests as needed, and they’re either approved or denied,” she said. “Our long-term goal is community testing. We’d love to be able to do that at this point, but based on the supplies we’ve received, we can’t.” 

See a recent story on Brown County’s COVID-19 response: 

— The state Department of Workforce Development received more than 60 notices in April from companies that are shutting down or laying off workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most of the shutdowns or layoffs affect a few dozen workers. But several have a much larger impact, such as the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County. Layoffs began March 17, and as many as 1,100 workers are being laid off. 

Meanwhile, the YMCA of the Fox Cities is laying off 1,546 jobs in Appleton, Greenville, Kimberly and Neenah. 

The Woodson YMCA in Marathon County is also laying off around 300 workers, and the Greater Green Bay YMCA reports 829 workers are being cut. Another 557 employees are being laid off from the YMCA of the Chippewa Valley. And the Glacial Community YMCA is laying off 542 workers. 

Pace Industries in Grafton informed DWD a layoff of 381 workers from its aluminum die casting foundry. And LSC Communications in Baraboo is cutting 393 workers, the notice shows. 

Enterprise Holdings, a car rental company, has announced its laying off 260 workers in southeastern Wisconsin. And Foot Locker is laying off 261 workers from 10 locations spread across the state. 

Most of the other layoff amounts from April are much smaller, but more notices are added to DWD’s site every day. 

Track layoff numbers at, which now displays the latest info from DWD: 

— DWD announced Thursday evening it experienced a “technological malfunction” that deposited double Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments into claimants’ US Bank accounts.

“Due to today’s issue, Unemployment Insurance and FPUC payments were removed from US Bank accounts,” said the department in a statement. “DWD is rectifying the error and working with US Bank to redistribute appropriate funds as soon as possible.”

— More coronavirus deaths and cases are being reported in Wisconsin.

The Department of Health Services reports the state COVID-19 death toll at 316 — up eight people from the last count.

Confirmed cases rose 334 since Wednesday, bringing total confirmed cases to 6,854.

DHS’s hospital dashboard also reports 359 COVID patients in hospitals statewide, an increase of nine from Wednesday’s 350, and above the week’s average of 348 patients.

With data provided from DHS, found that Wisconsin’s share of positive cases per number of total tests is on its first day of incline, but still below Saturday’s peak.

The numbers show 11.7 percent of total tests came back positive on Saturday, followed by Sunday (9.7), Monday (7.6), Tuesday (8.6), Wednesday (6.9) and Thursday (10.7). 

— DHS is conducting 187 facility-wide investigations for COVID-19, 113 being in the southeastern part of the state. 

Ninety-three of the investigations are in long-term care facilities where residents account for 8 percent of COVID-19 confirmed cases and 38 percent of deaths. 

Group housing facilities such as correctional facilities, homeless shelters, dormitories and group homes account for 25 of those 187 investigations. Three percent of confirmed cases were tied to group housing facilities as well as 3 percent of deaths. 

Forty-nine percent of confirmed cases and 37 deaths are unknown to be in long-term or group housing facilities.

Eleven investigations are in health care facilities, 48 in work settings and 10 are listed as “other.”

You can find the DHS dashboard here with a breakdown of investigations by setting and region: 

— Of the state’s 6,520 cumulative confirmed cases, an estimated 45 percent have recovered from COVID-19. 

That’s based on the number of confirmed cases who have at least documentation of resolved symptoms, documentation of release from public health isolation or 30 days since symptom onset or diagnosis. Fifty percent of patients are still in that 30-day period.

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 22 percent were hospitalized, 6 percent received intensive care and 5 percent have died, according to DHS.

Counties reporting deaths include Milwaukee (181), Dane (22), Waukesha (19), Kenosha (12), Racine (12), Ozaukee (9), Walworth (8), Grant (6), Rock (6), Clark (4) and Washington (4). 

Brown, Fond du Lac and Sauk counties report three deaths each.

Door, Outagamie, Richland and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Columbia, Dodge, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Monroe, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Sixty-six of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have confirmed cases.

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 


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