THU AM News: Class to be in session and in-person this fall, education leaders say; DPI expected to release K-12 reopening guidelines Monday

— Education leaders are developing plans to limit the spread of COVID-19 as public and private K-12 and higher education institutions prepare to return to in-person instruction this fall.

Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said in a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce webinar that WAICU members suffered economically from the pandemic. It estimates a cost of $245 million due to refunding room and board, putting curriculum online, taking care of students who could not leave campus and a projected decrease in enrollment for the fall semester. 

While private colleges and universities are doing what they can to keep students safe by procuring PPE and COVID-19 tests, Wegenke said the real impact is on the workforce and the economy.

“The short term economic impact is significant. I think long term though… we have to look at what’s going to happen with our economy and with the workforce,” he said, noting a worker shortage in Wisconsin for occupations such as physicians, engineers and teachers. 

John Will, president of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, said he is also concerned about a workforce shortage.

He noted that during the state’s stay-at-home order, technical colleges supplied the workforce for many of the essential businesses. Indianhead will also be open and offering in-person education come fall semester.

“We plan to keep as many people remote as we can, and that is just to keep human beings off of our campuses to the extent that we can, because that is one of the strategies to minimize the risk of spread,” Will said. 

Read the full story at 

— John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, expects the Department of Public Instruction to release reopening guidance for schools on Monday, adding most schools will reopen in the fall. 

But Ashley said during a WMC briefing the guidance won’t alleviate tough decisions that come with opening a school in a pandemic. He added “the DPI guidance will be a set of nonbinding recommendations that will require school leaders to consult with their local health departments on many aspects.” 

Dr. Jon Meiman, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, said reopening schools is a question that every state is grappling with right now. 

“It’s not just a matter of containing the disease, it’s also all the things that come along with schools,” Meiman said. 

“We’re working very closely with the Department of Public Instruction and are putting in measures as best we can for schools,” he said. This includes measures to detect COVID-19 and prevent transmission. 

“The other aspect of this… is just how susceptible children may or may not be and some of the research that just came out this week suggests that they are much less susceptible than adults to getting the infection,” Meiman said. “While there is still a lot more research to be done, I think some of the initial findings are encouraging and it will certainly infom what we recommend going into the fall.”

Ashley said that schools are going to look differently in many localities from what they’ve looked like in the past. He noted that many schools will strain to get the resources, space, staff and even buses to meet social distancing guidelines. Schools may have to adjust schedules to resemble something like “four days on, four days off.”

“All these changes that cost school district operations that districts may or may not be able to bear,” Ashley said. “School leaders will face unprecedented challenges formulating back to school plans and contingency planning should a COVID-19 infection outbreak occur.”

Gov. Tony Evers announced yesterday $83.6 million in federal funds that will go to K-12 schools and higher ed institutions.

Of that, $46 million going to K-12 is from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which was created in the U.S. Department of Education and received $3 billion from the federal CARES Act to dole out to states for schools. The guv’s office said the money will prioritize districts and students that have the highest remote learning needs and have most significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $37 million for higher ed is from the CARES Act money the state received and will be used for unbudgeted expenses in response to the pandemic.

The UW System said it will receive $19 million of that money.

Evers’ said the money is in addition to the more than $354 million K-12 schools and higher ed institutions have already received directly under the CARES Act.

“I’ve always said what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, so I am hopeful this funding can help alleviate expenses already incurred and further creative efforts to transition between in-person learning and distance learning seamlessly as we prepare for the upcoming fall semester and continue to fight COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers said.

Ashley is also calling for protections against “frivolous lawsuits as we try our best to get students and staff back in schools” including limits on liability and safe harbor protections in order to deter lawsuits. 

See Evers’ release:

— Wisconsin could be facing a child care crisis in many areas of the state, according to Ashley.

“We face a potential child care crisis in many areas of our state,” Ashley, who also serves on Evers’ Early Childhood Advisory Council, pointed out in a WMC briefing. “This in turn will affect K-12 schools and businesses. It’s something we should not be ignoring.”

He said with so many parents at home — working from home or unemployed — the demand for daycare plummeted as parents either didn’t need it or couldn’t pay for it. 

Ashley also noted that limits on the number of children in a daycare also hurt the pocketbook of childcare providers, closed some doors and may prevent providers from reopening.

“Just as we need schools to reopen to get the economy reopened, we also need childcare facilities to be open and available,” he said.

— Applications are open for the Downtown Emergency Relief Fund of almost $200,000 for Madison businesses that experienced damage from looting following peaceful protests against racial injustice on May 29. 

More than 3,300 donors chipped in $199,040 to the fund, and GoFundMe started just hours after damage started. The Downtown Emergency Relief Fund was organized by Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County and its CEO, Michael Johnson; Madison365; and Madison resident Paulo Delgado.

Businesses can apply at the Madison’s Central Business Improvement District website. The first phase of the money will go to damage caused by looting in late May. If there’s money left over, a second phase of funds will go towards lost revenue.

The deadline for completed applications is Tuesday, June 22 at 5 p.m. The applications will be reviewed on June 25 and the money, up to $7,500, will be distributed on June 30. 

In addition to funds for businesses, a sum will also go to local organizations and minority owned businesses, $5,000 to the George Floyd Memorial Fund and $2,500 to youth at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County to use at their discretion. 

Yesterday afternoon, Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County held a youth town hall meeting to discuss experiences of racial injustices and let them decide where they think the money could be used.

To apply for the Downtown Emergency Relief Fund:

— The Board of Governors for the Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund voted yesterday to waive premiums for the next fiscal year for the health care professionals and providers enrolled in the fund.

“COVID-19 has posed unprecedented health and economic challenges to our state, and the health care industry is no exception,” said Bud Chumbley, CEO of the Wisconsin Medical Society and board member. “The premium holiday approved today by the Board will provide some financial relief to many of the Wisconsin medical professionals and providers who have been affected by the pandemic and who face ongoing challenges.”

The premium holiday was originally requested by the Wisconsin Medical Society before it was approved by the board. The holiday will be in effect from July 1, 2020, until June 30, 2021.

See the release: 

— The Wisconsin Department of Health Services will conduct two population health studies that will examine the presence of COVID-19 in the state.

The studies will be done in partnership with UW-Madison’s Survey of Health of Wisconsin, the State Laboratory of Hygiene, UW-Milwaukee and the DNR.

The SHOW study will recruit people who participated in the group’s other studies to test them for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies. The antibody tests can show whether a person has had COVID-19 in the past. Participants will be selected from 10 randomly chosen counties and the city of Milwaukee and be tested over the course of the next year.

“Our past experience surveying the health of this state, existing research infrastructure, and community partnerships should allow us to aid in the containment and tracking effort of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kristen Malecki, director and principal investigator for the SHOW program, and associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The UWM and the DNR study will test wastewater in urban and rural areas for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to a DHS release, changes in the quantity of the virus found at different times can show whether infection rates are increasing or decreasing. The tests may also provide early warnings about local outbreaks. The study will run through June of 2021, and initial results are expected by the end of this summer. 

“The results will help communities with higher concentrations of COVID-19 prepare for a potential surge in cases,” said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, an occupational disease epidemiologist who is the chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health. “This approach is not designed to replace the existing public health surveillance but will help supplement the current practices and mitigation efforts.”

See the release: 

— The state’s COVID-19 death count is at 712, nine more deaths since Tuesday.

Milwaukee County had four more deaths while Dane, Dodge, Racine, Washington, Waupaca and Winnebago counties each had one more. One death was removed from Kenosha County’s count.

The number of recovered patients is an estimated 74 percent, while 3 percent of patients have died. Twenty-three percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (356), Racine (56), Brown (39), Kenosha (36), Waukesha (35), Dane (31), Rock (22), Walworth (17), Ozaukee (15), Grant (12), Washington (12), Winnebago (10), Outagamie (8), Fond du Lac (6), Dodge (5), Waupaca (5), Clark (4), Jefferson (4), Richland (4) and Sheboygan (4).

Door, Marinette and Sauk counties report three deaths each. Adams, Buffalo, Calumet and Forest counties report two deaths each.

Bayfield, Burnett, Columbia, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Polk and Wood counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— The state saw 256 confirmed COVID-19 cases today, keeping daily case numbers consistently low. But a health official warned, “we’re not done.”

“We’re not done until we’re highly confident we have this contained,” said Dr. Jon Meiman, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health. “While the trends are encouraging, we still have a lot more work to do.”

Meiman attributes the state’s success in low cases to Wisconsinites’ personal behaviors, noting businesses putting procedures in place to protect their employees and local public health getting messages out to its communities. 

While other states are seeing new clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, attributes that to relaxed social distancing interventions. 

“Whether that is a preview of Wisconsin remains to be seen,” he said. 

The state’s “Safer at Home” order has not been in effect for over a month, and the state did see an increase in hospitalizations the last half of May. But the June numbers are much lower, Westergaard pointed out. 

“The biggest determinants of what the epidemic looks like in the months ahead are the success that we… engage in these protective behaviors: physical distancing and wearing masks,” he said. “Even though other states are experiencing epidemics, I think we in Wisconsin, if we can communicate and coalesce around the idea that adopting these infection prevention strategies…. I think there’s a lot of good that can be done.”


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