THU AM News: Hospitality industry reacts to Dane County’s new restrictions; Food chain specialists say pandemic highlighted a need for innovation

— After a successful run at keeping down daily confirmed cases and making its way through its reopening plan, Dane County is now having to place new restrictions on businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19 just before the holiday weekend.

The new order takes effect this morning at 8 a.m. and will remain in place for at least a month. 

“For the past week, Dane County has seen a sustained, high number of cases,” said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “After consultation with our contact tracing team, gatherings and visits to bars and restaurants continue to be implicated in interviews with cases.”

The changes include: 10 people or fewer at indoor gatherings; 25 or fewer at outdoor gatherings; indoor dining capacity at restaurants reduced to 25 percent of approved seating capacity levels; bars may provide takeout, but no indoor dining; bars and restaurants are permitted to provide outdoor seating with physical distancing; and group fitness classes are no subject to mass gathering limits listed above

“Responsible businesses should double down on efforts to protect patrons and workers, including not only providing face coverings for workers as required, but also by encouraging patrons to use face coverings as well,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in a release.

Destination Madison supports the new public health measures and continues to urge visitors and residents to take appropriate health and safety precautions, especially over the Fourth of July weekend, when out in the community visiting local small businesses.

Read the full story at 

— The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for innovation and entrepreneurship in Wisconsin’s food supply chain, panelists told a WARF “Entrepreneurons” virtual discussion. 

Panelists offered up what’s working, what isn’t and what opportunities have emerged for entrepreneurs within Wisconsin’s food supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tera Johnson, founder and director of the Food Finance Institute, said that lots of people can have ideas, but entrepreneurs know how to take those ideas and turn them into a company. Johnson grew her business during the middle of a recession and wanted to reassure people that the current economic crisis doesn’t mean opportunities for growth do not exist. 

“[Entrepreneurs] just need to focus on getting a business model that can actually make money,” Johnson said. 

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has been working to connect people across the state from all aspects of the agricultural industry to address issues that have emerged during the pandemic — such as stranded food bank material. 

Efforts such as that have “created lots of opportunity,” as told by Angela James, assistant deputy secretary of DATCP.

One such opportunity has come in the form of adjusting the manufacturing of cheese. 

The director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, John Lucey, said since the start of COVID-19, his group has offered support to over 50 cheese companies and held a webinar on how to extend the shelf life of cheese. 

“We have focused constantly every day on how to help the industry,” Lucey said, adding that the center also tries to always provide support to entrepreneurs.

The grocery industry is another area that has undergone a series of rapid changes since March. 

Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers’ Association, said the grocery industry has never faced something like COVID-19 before and that the pandemic hit “like a tsunami.” 

A rapid increase in virtual grocery sales led the industry to revamp the online sale platform for pickups and deliveries at grocery stores. Many stores now have “mini distribution centers”, he said.

Christopher Salm’s resume gives merit to his message for entrepreneurs. 

Salm is the founder of Salm Partners, a cook-in-package sausage and hot dog producer and the CEO of Ab E Discovery, a commercialization firm that works with entrepreneurial science. He tells his team to “keep their hopes up” by believing the best is yet to come. 

“It’s a fundamental belief that the greatest age in the history of mankind still lies before us,” Salm said.

See an earlier stories on how the pandemic has affected the food supply chain at 

— U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he was concerned at how cases of COVID-19 are trending in America, and that Wisconsin may need to consider more stringent regulations for bars going forward.

Johnson said yesterday that he considers all businesses essential, but that the approach of letting people into bars without restrictions may not be best for public safety. He didn’t propose how bars would restrict patrons, but suggested future stimulus bills would have extra money for local bars that would be affected by regulations.

Small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and Johnson said they would also have to be addressed in more specific funding than the block grants given out in the last two months. However, he did note that the economy is doing better than it was before the repoening, since not all businesses are doing poorly.

“Amazon is doing great,” Johnson told an Axios virtual event.

In terms of preparedness for the pandemic, Johnson said he would “probably give a pretty low grade” to current and previous administrations, but that everyone involved with the response has earned “pretty high marks.”

“I’m not overly critical of our elected officials like the president, or local legislators and mayors,” Johnson said. “Everyone is doing the best they can.”

He said the U.S. may want to look at a model of reopening like the one Sweden has implemented, noting their death rate is “better than countries like the UK and Spain.” 

However, COVID data from Sweden and America suggest the U.S. has actually handled the virus more effectively. Sweden’s death rate is currently about 7.8 percent, while in America it sits at 4.9 percent. Additionally, Sweden’s death rate per-capita is about 522.81 per-million, while in America 379.27 per-million have died.

“We have to make sure we are always looking at the science,” Johnson said.

— With 15 days remaining to file taxes, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has decided to open up in-person appointments in Wausau, Appleton and Eau Claire. 

The three locations join customer service centers in Madison and Milwaukee already offer this service. 

According to the DOR, the decision was made to open offices for appointment-only service and extended phone service hours to ensure that all taxpayers could receive assistance or information needed to file taxes before the extended filing due date of July 15.

DOR is taking COVID-19 preventative measures as well by requiring face covering for both customers and employees, allowing only one person or family in the building at a time, and cleaning meeting spaces after each appointment. 

The department also recommends calling the customer service phone number and receiving assistance over the phone — appointments are only for those who cannot be assisted over the phone.

— Wisconsin fared well for shares of the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an economic development specialist with the Small Business Administration.

Tammie Clendenning, economic development specialist with the Wisconsin District of the SBA,  told viewers in the Wisconsin Technology Council’s webinar, “Crossing the coronavirus chasm,” that Wisconsin actually ranked in the top 10 for giving PPP loans. 

“Wisconsin borrowers did fare well throughout this process, and that’s great news for us here,” she said. 

Clendenning attributes Wisconsin small business success in securing the loans to the strong banks — both major and community — and the statewide networking that got the word out. 

“We have great lending partners here throughout the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “I think that they have done a very good job of communicating with their small businesses.”

She also noted successful workshops that SBA and its resource partners put on for businesses and recommended people to take advantage of that.

Clendenning applauded the SBA’s Community Development Financial Institutions for stepping up to help process PPP loans for small borrowers that have had challenges accessing capital. 

Additionally, she noted fintechs — financial service technology companies such as PayPal — that allowed for more availability through their online lending services for helping small borrowers. 

“Especially in the beginning of the PPP process where there was such a huge rush to get in before that money went out… some of the local lenders were just so very inundated with applications from their current clients, they couldn’t take on new businesses or perhaps even a smaller organization that just didn’t have that access,” Clendenning said.

“I think all of those things really contributed to just the great numbers that we’ve seen here in Wisconsin.”

— DHS is currently conducting 622 facility-wide investigations across the state, seven less than last week.

Non-health care workplace investigations account for 273 of the current investigations, followed by 206 happening in long-term care facilities.

Long-term care facilities in the state are reporting 340 deaths due to COVID-19, making up 43 percent of total deaths in Wisconsin due to the virus. These include nursing homes and assisted living facilities, such as community-based residential facilities and residential care apartment complexes. 

There are 68 active nursing home investigations. 

Almost 20 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients who have died in the state were over 90 years old, while roughly 25 percent were between 80 and 89 years old. Over 26 percent were between 70 and 79, and almost 17 percent were between 60 and 69.

Thirty-nine of the investigations are in group housing facilities including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, dormitories and group homes that have identified 40 COVID-19 deaths, or 5 percent of the state’s total. 

Two hundred and three of the state’s COVID-19 deaths were not linked to group housing facilities, and 203 deaths are categorized as “unknown,” meaning they may or may not have occurred at these facilities. 

According to DHS, the unknown category exists because relevant information has only been collected since April 8. 

DHS is also conducting investigations in health care facilities (16) and “other settings” (88). A majority of the investigations are taking place in Milwaukee (117), Brown (76) and Waukesha (63) counties.

There have been a total of 932 investigations, with 310 investigations closed. An investigation is considered closed and removed from the DHS listing 28 days after the last positive case was confirmed.

To see the facilities under investigation and a breakdown by county visit: 

— Wisconsin farmers facing increased stress and other challenges can now contact the Farm Center at DATCP for free and confidential counseling resources.

As part of a new pilot program funded by Gov.Tony Evers’ 2019-2021 biennial budget and approved by the state Legislature, the Farm Center can now connect callers to a 24/7 Farmer Wellness Hotline. 

“The 24/7 Farmer Counseling Hotline is available around the clock as a welcoming ear for farmers who need to talk through a challenging time in their life,” said Farm Center Director Jayne Krull. “We hope that this initial pilot program will help us better understand whether a 24/7 hotline and tele-counseling are viable tools for our farmers with mental health needs.”

The hotline can be reached at 1-888-901-2558. Licensed mental health professionals contracted by the department will provide immediate, in-the-moment care.

See the release: 

— Wisconsin has two new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the state’s death toll to 786. 

Plus, the state is recording 540 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, less than Tuesday but the second highest count for the past two weeks.

In addition to a lower number of new cases, the percentage of positive COVID tests fell to 4.3 percent from 4.7 percent Tuesday.

The new cases bring the cumulative count to 29,199. The state reported 12,608 tests yesterday. The state’s daily testing capacity is 18,434 tests. As of Tuesday, the state collected 580,806 tests. 

Washington and Waukesha counties reported one new death each.

The number of recovered patients number 23,089 or 79 percent, while 3 percent of patients have died. Active cases–those still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis–number 18 percent.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (390), Racine (63), Kenosha (43), Brown (42), Waukesha (39), Dane (32), Rock (24), Walworth (18), Washington (16), Ozaukee (15), Grant (13), Winnebago (11), Outagamie (9), Waupaca (7), Clark (6), Fond du Lac (6), Dodge (5), Jefferson (4), Richland (4) and Sheboygan (4).

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

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

See a map of community-based testing sites here: 

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— The southeast region of Wisconsin, the home to the most urban markets in the state, had fewer home sales than the other regions of the state due to tighter home inventories.

While all regions of the state were down this year by pretty significant margins, the southeast region was down the most at over 30 percent.

“Their inventories are tighter than the other regions,” said David Clark, economics professor at Marquette University and a consultant to the Wisconsin Realtors Association. “There were fewer homes for sales, and so when you look at the sales in the month of May, they closed fewer homes.”

Inventory levels are tracked by metropolitan classifications if one is looking to break down the rural, urban and suburban market for home sales. According to Clark, inventories are relatively balanced in rural areas meaning there’s about six months of supply.  

“When you have less than six months supply, that’s indicative of a market that could be classified as a seller’s market and the closer you are to zero, the tighter is the housing market, the greater is the advantage for sellers,” he said. 

The month of May for rural areas was balanced. But metropolitan areas — larger cities that have at least a 50,000 population — had about 3.3 months of supply and a tighter market. Additionally, micropolitan areas, cities and towns between 10,000 and 50,000 people, had about 4.4 months of available supply. 

“The micropolitan areas would be classified as seller’s markets and metropolitan areas would also be classified as seller’s markets,” Clark said. 

While urban areas had less inventory and sales, there was a greater seller advantage. But that’s not an unusual finding. 

“We tend to find that even prior to the point where the pandemic was having an influence, we tended to find that the more urban markets were quite a bit tighter in terms of supply than were the rural markets,” he said.   

Listen to a previous podcast with Clark: 


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