THU AM News: Increased visits to state parks brings economic boost; DWD recieves $5M to support opioid abuse victims

— Camping and visits to state parks are up dramatically.

Since mid-March, visits to state parks totaled over 6.4 million. Weekend attendance on May 16-17 was up 44 percent compared to the previous year. 

That percentage continued to rise to 52 percent by June 13-14 as camping reopened on state properties. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recorded a dramatic uptick in camping reservations with 73 percent of campsites reserved July 1-31 in 2020 compared to 62 percent in the same period last year. 

Fishing and turkey licenses also saw substantial increases — 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively, over 2019. 

People heading outside for recreation during the pandemic resulted in an economic boost of $7.8 billion to the state’s GDP and more than 93,000 jobs, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

“If there is a silver lining in the pandemic, it is that getting outside has never felt so important to so many people – and Wisconsin is fortunate to have countless outdoor offerings,” said Mary Monroe Brown, director of the Wisconsin Tourism Office of Outdoor Recreation. “Welcoming and cultivating this new group to become life-long outdoorists is a monumental opportunity not only for the outdoor recreation industry but also for Wisconsin’s economy.”

Wisconsin is home to 49 state parks, 15 state forests, 44 state trails, 84,000 miles of rivers and streams and roughly 15,000 lakes.

“Being outdoors not only does wonders for our health and well-being during these uncertain times, it helps support local small businesses that depend on park visitors,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole. “Wisconsin’s parks and trails are public treasures, and it is vital that we continue to invest in the preservation and enhancement of these public lands enjoyed by so many, not just right now but for generations to come.”

— Young companies can now submit applications to share their stories with investors at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

The symposium will be held on a virtual platform Nov. 9-11.

The 2020 format includes two pitch opportunities: the Tech Council Investor Networks track, which are 5-minute presentations; and the Elevator Pitch Olympics, which will allow pre-selected companies brief, one-on-one meetings with targeted angel and venture investors.

The Tech Council has partnered with AirDeck for applicants to build narrated, customized presentations, which are required for the investor network track.

The deadline to apply online is Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.

Register here: 

— The state Department of Workforce Development received $5 million from the federal Department of Labor to provide training, career services and supportive services to opioid abuse victims.

DWD will subgrant to five regional workforce development boards in the Fox Valley, north central, northwest, west central and southwest parts of the state. The boards will build local coalitions surrounding opioid recovery and workforce development. Community coalitions may include employers or industry organizations, treatment and recovery centers, education providers, legal services, community-based and faith-based organizations. 

“Through these local partnerships, DWD seeks to promote a holistic path to employment for individuals impacted by opioid addiction or other substance abuse,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said. “The community partnerships will focus not just on career services, but also bring in experts on treatment and supportive services to help participants succeed.”

Local workforce boards and partners will also provide training for individuals interested in pursuing careers in the field of substance abuse and recovery.

“Slowing the ongoing misuse of opioids and other substances across the state requires well-trained healthcare workers,” Frostman said. “By investing in training in these fields, DWD will expand the population of healthcare workers equipped to aid in opioid recovery, and their work will empower Wisconsinites whose ability to maintain employment has been hampered by opioid addiction.”

The federal funding is through the Support to Communities: Fostering Opioid Recovery Through Workforce Development Partnership Grant. 

— Chamber of commerce leaders around the state say the COVID-19 economic crisis has caused lasting financial damage on local economies.

But Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said the pandemic has shown many companies that it’s entirely possible for employees to work remotely without needing to step foot in an office. This, he said, could benefit the city by allowing people to live in the metro area and take advantage of its lower cost of living while working somewhere else.

“This is not the Bay Area,” he said at a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce virtual event. “The mobility created by remote work is both a threat and an opportunity.”

The threat, he said, would be if companies now start hiring people from around the country instead of locally. Sheehy said this possible problem will only become more prevalent in the future as today’s K-12 students deal with online education, which he said poses a challenge for quality learning and access for some students without broadband at home.

Fellow panelists on the webinar were Laurie Radke, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Montemurro, president and CEO of the Racine Area Manufacturers & Commerce.

Both Radke and Montemurro echoed Sheehy’s economic concerns brought on by the pandemic. Montemurro said the main challenge in his area is finding jobs for people that provide a living wage.

“It feels like we’re not winning that battle but we’re trying,” he said.

Radke said the Green Bay area has improved slightly since the initial hit from the pandemic, but she added it’s still “not where we were a year ago.”

She said the area is looking at a $15 million revenue loss for every potentially missed Green Bay Packers game this season.

— An Eau Claire County minor is the first person to contract eastern equine encephalitis in Wisconsin in 2020. She’s the fourth to become infected since 1964. 

This follows last week’s announcement from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that six horses in three northwestern Wisconsin counties were infected with the virus, which can be spread to humans and other animals through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Mosquitoes get EEE virus by feeding on infected birds. The virus is not spread person to person or directly between animals and humans.

DHS notes that many people infected with EEE virus do not get sick, but those who do become ill may develop encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — that typically begins with the sudden development of fever, headache, chills and vomiting. The illness may become severe resulting in disorientation, seizures, coma or death. 

There is no specific treatment for EEE illness, according to DHS, and death occurs in approximately 30 percent of people who develop encephalitis from EEE.

The single best prevention tool continues to be avoiding mosquito bites. 

“We all have an important role to play in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes,” said State Health Officer Stephanie Smiley. “Every preventive step we take makes a difference.”

DHS recommends limiting time outdoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active; applying insect repellent; making sure window and door screens are intact; removing stagnant water from items around one’s property; and trimming tall grass and weeds — resting areas for mosquitoes during hot hours. 

— Thirteen counties are seeing both an increased trend and a high burden of COVID cases, up from six counties last week, the state Department of Health Services says.

The counties include: Adams, Dane, Dodge, Forest, Juneau, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Outagamie, Portage, Shawano, Taylor, Waushara and Winnebago. 

The Fox Valley area, north-central, western and south-central healthcare emergency readiness coalition regions are also seeing both an increased cased trend and high case burden.

But eight counties in the state rank below the high mark for COVID-19 activity — one more than last week. These are Ashland, Door, Grant, Lafayette, Pepin, Lincoln, Price and Rusk. However, no counties rank “low.” 

In terms of infection ratios, Milwaukee County has the state’s highest at 25.7 cases per 1,000 people. In one week, Milwaukee County added 749 COVID-19 cases to its count — about 200 fewer than last week. The county has a cumulative total of 24,263 confirmed cases.

The second-highest infection ratio in the state is Iron County at 21.6 cases per 1,000 people — up from 20.1 last week. It added 11 cases in one week for a cumulative 126 confirmed cases. Iron County, with a population of 5,687 according to the 2019 census, has three active COVID-19 investigations in one workplace and two “other” settings. 

Brown County’s infection ratio is 21.1 per 1,000 people and cases number 5,508, an increase of 365 cases in one week. Racine County has an infection ratio of 20.7 per 1,000 people and a cumulative total of 4,049 confirmed COVID-19 cases after adding 152 cases in one week, same as last week. 

Kenosha (17.8), Walworth (16.8), Marinette (15.1), Trempealeau (14.5), Waukesha (14.1) and Dodge (13.5) are the other counties that are above the state average infection ratio of 13.34 cases per 1,000 people.

See DHS’ data dashboard with county and HERC region breakdown here: 

— DHS is conducting 29 fewer facility-wide investigations than last week. It’s now conducting 1,159 statewide.

Non-health care workplaces account for 471 of the current investigations, followed by 268 in long-term care facilities.

Long-term care facilities are reporting 423 deaths due to COVID-19, making up 37 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. That’s nine more deaths since last week. These include nursing homes and assisted living facilities, such as community-based residential facilities and residential care apartment complexes.

There are 95 active nursing home investigations.

Over 88 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients who have died in the state were age 60 or older.

Sixty-three of the investigations are in group housing facilities including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, dormitories and group homes, which have seen 47 COVID-19 deaths, or 4 percent of the state’s total.

Three hundred and fifty 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.

The state is also conducting 247 investigations in “other settings,” 59 in educational facilities and 51 investigations in health care facilities. Counties with the highest numbers of investigations include: Milwaukee (187), Waukesha (162), Dane (99), Kenosha (94) and Brown (59).

There have been a total of 2,441 investigations, with 1,282 investigations closed. An investigation is considered closed and removed from the DHS listing 28 days after the last positive case was confirmed.

Click here to see the nursing homes with active public health investigations and a breakdown of investigations by county: 

— Wisconsin reported 545 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.

The seven-day average of daily confirmed cases fell from 727 to 696 and the seven-day average for percent positive tests fell to 8.4 percent from 8.5 percent after the state received 8,376 tests.

The new cases bring the cumulative case count to 77,129, with 68,641 recovered. Meanwhile, 1.5 percent of patients have died with the death toll now at 1,142.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (494), Racine (91), Waukesha (75), Kenosha (64), Brown (58), Dane (40), Walworth (31), Washington (29), Rock (26), Winnebago (21), Outagamie (20), Grant (18), Ozaukee (18), Waupaca (18), Marathon (14), Fond du Lac (10), Sheboygan (9), Clark (8), St. Croix (7), Eau Claire (6), Jefferson (6), Marinette (6), Pierce (6), Dodge (5), Forest (4) and Richland (4).

Adams, Barron, Door, Sauk, Taylor and Wood counties report three deaths each. Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Langlade, Manitowoc, Monroe, Oconto, Polk, Trempealeau and Waushara counties report two deaths each.

Ashland, Bayfield, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Lincoln, Marquette, Portage and Rusk counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 


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