TUE AM News: Hotel and lodging group CEO seeing ‘devastation’ in the industry; Record number of unemployment insurance claims in recent weeks

— The head of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association is concerned about the future of the industry as businesses take drastic measures to survive the current crisis. 

“We were one of the first, along with restaurants, to get hit right out of the gate when this blossomed dramatically into more severe numbers and impacts,” said Trisha Pugal, the group’s interim CEO and a registered lobbyist. “Naturally, we share everyone’s concern about how long this is lasting, and the impact on our employees, our businesses.” 

In a recent interview, Pugal said hotels and other related businesses are “experiencing devastation” as large group events are cancelling at least through the end of the month. A number of these companies are closing temporarily due to a lack of business, and many have little to no revenue coming in, she said. 

She noted most have had to enact “considerable” layoffs just to keep the business from failing. And that’s particularly difficult, she explained, because these workers make up “the backbone of our industry.” 

“It’s been very difficult for owners, managers to try and keep things operating and provide the jobs needed for their valued employees,” she said. 

The American Hotel & Lodging Association has been circulating projections showing Wisconsin could lose as many as 18,000 direct jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. On a national basis, as much as 44 percent of all hotel employees are expected to be out of work in the coming weeks. 

“We’ve been doing weekly surveys, trying to keep an eye on what everyone is saying statewide,” Pugal said. “We’re seeing the impact, and it’s changing on a week-to-week basis. A week ago, those that thought they could weather the storm are not able to next week.” 

The latest federal stimulus package is expected to help many businesses impacted during the pandemic, including some hotels. But since hotels, restaurants and others have been dealing with the virus’ fallout for longer, Pugal says “it makes it more difficult, because it’s taking a while for the money to free up … it’s very, very challenging.” 

See more: http://www.wisbusiness.com/?p=1450987 

— The past two weeks are expected to set back-to-back records for the highest number of unemployment insurance claims in state history, according to figures from the Department of Workforce Development.

In the first full week after Gov. Tony Evers issued the public health emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak, 51,023 claims were filed, according to updated figures from DWD.

Before that, the previous record week for UI claims was near the end of 2001, when 49,267 claims were filed. The number of weekly claims only exceeded 40,000 one other time since 1986 — the earliest year DWD has numbers for — near the end of 2002.

And according to preliminary figures the agency released, last week is likely to set a new record for UI claims, though finalized numbers aren’t yet available. More than 115,000 unemployment insurance claims were made between March 22 and 28, DWD’s website shows.

As with the prior week, that total could decrease once the official tally comes out. The preliminary count for that week’s claims was around 70,000, and that was amended down to around 51,000. Still, with more than double the number of the previous record in the early count, the probability of last week setting another record is high.

DWD is urging people to file their claims online as its phone system is overloaded with calls. A release shows the agency’s unemployment insurance division got more than 1.5 million calls last week, over 6,000 percent more than the previous busiest week on record.

Workers in Wisconsin can receive up to $370 per week in state unemployment benefits, and the latest federal relief package provides an extra $600 per week for up to four months.

At certain times last week, the DWD UI phone lines were getting more than 160 calls per second. In response to the explosion in calls, the agency has improved its capacity from 450 to 690 simultaneous calls.

The agency’s UI call center last week added 35 temporary staff members, and is currently training 40 more workers from other divisions to join the call center. DWD plans to hire another 80 employees to help field calls.

Track the latest unemployment insurance claims here:


— The Department of Health Services has reported 14 deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,221 confirmed cases, but a WisPolitics.com-WisBusiness.com check of county websites shows the total number of deaths is at least 22.

The most recent death reported by DHS — a male in his 40s — was in Fond du Lac County, bringing the county total to two.

The state-reported totals, however, do not include recent deaths in Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties.

Milwaukee County on its website reports 10 deaths, while the combined Ozaukee/Washington health department reported five deaths in Ozaukee County and one in Washington. The state reported six deaths from other counties.

Forty-four counties have at least one confirmed case.

“It’s safe to assume that all communities in Wisconsin, if they don’t have community spread, are at high risk for community spread,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, in a DHS press call.

According to data collected by DHS, 20 percent of COVID-19 case patients are between the ages of 60-69. Another 18 percent are in their 50s, 17 percent are in their 40s, and 15 percent are in their 30s.

Of those who’ve tested positive so far, 54 percent were women, while 46 percent were men.

According to DHS Secretary Andrea Palm, some 25 percent of people who have COVID-19 are hospitalized. Within the larger population, 1 percent to 2 percent of coronavirus patients die, according to Westergaard. But he said officials “don’t have a great way to capture accurately” when someone is cleared from infection.

Click here for coronavirus resources and information:

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced a public-private partnership with Wisconsin businesses to expand testing for COVID-19.

According to Evers, Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega and UW Health will now pool resources with current labs to strengthen the state’s testing capacity and keep up with demand as cases rise.

“Just like H1N1, we knew that testing for the virus would require assets beyond the state labs.” said Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm in a press call. “For this response, that has taken the form of a strong partnership between government and some of the best and brightest minds in business and technology.”

In a statement, the guv commended the State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab for “the tremendous lift they have done over the past few weeks to rapidly bring these tests online.

“But even with these combined efforts, unfortunately, we know all too well that as this disease spreads there will be significant pressure on our labs to keep pace with testing,” he said. “Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to have these industry leaders in our own backyard.”

The labs themselves will not be testing sites, and Wisconsinites will still need a doctor’s order to receive testing.

See the release:

— WEDC has not granted essential business designation to any of the companies that have submitted inquiries to the agency, according to agency spokesman David Callender.

Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order gives the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. the ability to designate companies as essential outside of what’s covered in the order. But WEDC hasn’t exercised that power, and has only been providing guidance to companies “to help them navigate whether or not they fit into one of the other categories in the order.”

The order notes that businesses not listed in the order will only be designated as essential for an “exceptional circumstance.” WEDC chief Missy Hughes has said exemptions to the order will be rare.

As of 10 a.m. yesterday, 3,538 businesses had made inquiries, and 2,280 of those had been answered.

See more details on essential businesses: http://wedc.org/essentialbusiness/

— The Wisconsin Technology Council is joining more than 130 other groups in calling on federal officials to ensure equity-led startups can benefit from the latest coronavirus stimulus package. 

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Small Business Association Administrator Jovita Carranza, the groups are asking them to clarify that these companies can benefit from the CARES Act loan program. 

According to a Tech Council release, most equity-backed startups are financed by angel investors and venture capitalists that also have investments with many other companies. But under certain SBA rules, startups may have to include the total number of jobs at all fellow portfolio companies in their count, potentially disqualifying them for loans. 

The groups argue that current SBA rules are “ambiguous” and could lead to startups with only a few dozen employees being grouped in with much larger companies that have hundreds of workers. 

“We hope affiliation rules defining ‘control’ of a startup are rewritten to exclude venture capital funds and angel investors that own less than a majority of a portfolio company’s outstanding voting stock and do not have the ability to elect a majority of a company’s directors,” Tech Council President Tom Still said in a statement. 

The letter is also being signed by BioForward, Titletown Tech and the Wisconsin Venture Capital Association. 

See the release: http://wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/tech-council-joins-bid-to-ensure-cares-act-does-not-exclude-equity-based-startups/ 

See the full letter: http://wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.29.20-Final-Coalition-Letter-SBA-Affiliation-Rule-Startups.pdf 

— More than 20 Ionic developers have created coronavirus-related apps, the Madison-based software company recently announced. 

“As the world tries to make sense of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing social and economic crisis, developers in the Ionic community are leading the charge to inform and help the public,” Ionic CEO Max Lynch said in a blog post. “We’re so proud of the time and effort the Ionic community is putting into the response.”

The apps for mobile and web include COVID-19 trackers, a video chat and home activities for children.

According to Lynch, Ionic’s progressive web app-first approach has been crucial to the developers, who have faced increased iOS and Google app store review times.

See more at Madison Startups: http://www.madisonstartups.com/ionic-developers-make-coronavirus-related-apps/ 


# Golf community hopes “non-essential” ban on courses will be lifted


# State Fair Park, Wisconsin Center scouted for makeshift hospitals as COVID-19 spreads


# New public-private partnership expected to double Wisconsin’s COVID-19 testing capacity


# Wedding and funeral plans in limbo as isolation stretches on




– Wisconsin Pork Association offering support to producers of show pigs


– Wisconsin dairy farmers hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak



– With April 1 near, banks offering payment deferrals to businesses, property owners hurt by COVID-19 



– Wisconsin initial unemployment claims up 67% last week


– Wisconsin colleges to refund tens of millions of dollars to students due to COVID-19



– Weekend tornado causes damage to farm buildings



– Wisconsin prepares field hospitals as virus cases increase


– Rogers Behavioral Health hiring for hundreds of positions, adopts telehealth amid COVID-19

– Advocate Aurora postpones opening of $130 million Pleasant Prairie health center

– DHS: 1,221 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin


– The Latest: Wisconsin health official says progress seen



– Roundy’s will hold job fairs to hire 500 employees to handle online orders

– Pick ‘n Save holding job fairs Wednesday to hire 500 additional workers



– Wisconsin Center District faces cash crunch; CEO seeks input on proceeding with $420M project



– Former NASCAR president likely won’t be on Harley-Davidson board after investment firm reaches deal

– Harley-Davidson settles with shareholder that planned to nominate two directors to board



– Milwaukee mayoral candidates spar over handling of COVID-19



– Wisconsin Center District could miss December debt payment if no action taken


– Kohl’s furloughing employees and extending stores closure, CEO won’t take salary

– Kohl’s to furlough many store associates, CEO takes no salary



– Virtual meetings are a lifeline for people struggling with addiction



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