WED AM News: Farm groups asking state to fill in the gaps in USDA relief; Brown County officials identify 86 more cases linked to meat plants

— Wisconsin farmers are struggling to make ends meet as the coronavirus pandemic cuts commodity prices, disrupts supply chains and upsets markets. They say new federal aid programs won’t fill the hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls brought on by COVID-19. 

“As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our economy, millions of Americans cannot afford food, many for the first time in their lives, and our farmers who produce this food are struggling to survive financially,” said Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and Dairy Business Association.

Edge and DBA said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program relief, which comes with a $19 billion price tag sourced by the $2 trillion CARES Act package, is a “bridge for both” consumers and producers. 

Both Edge and DBA pushed for Perdue’s plan to help farmers nationwide hit financially by the pandemic: $16 billion in direct federal payments to various commodities, including $2.9 billion to dairy farmers around the country; and $3 billion in federal purchases of produce, dairy and meat, including $100 million in dairy products per month, for food assistance programs.

According to the USDA, the new program will assist farmers, ranchers and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency to “maintain the integrity” of the food supply chain and ensure Americans have access to food.

“During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA are standing with our farmers, ranchers, and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of,” said Perdue in a statement. “The American food supply chain had to adapt, and it remains safe, secure, and strong, and we all know that starts with America’s farmers and ranchers.”

Food, fuel and fiber trace their way back to farms where crops and livestock source the products that drive economies like Wisconsin’s, where agriculture contributes $104.8 billion annually to the state’s economy. Coronavirus is stripping away more than $500 million of that, based on early projections from ag production sectors.

See more: 

— Health officials in Brown County have determined at least 86 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 are linked to two meatpacking companies in Green Bay: JBS Packerland Plant and American Foods Group. 

According to the latest update from officials, 79 cases have been linked to JBS, in addition to the 255 employees who are confirmed to have the virus. American Foods Group has 145 infected employees and seven other linked cases. 

Brown County health officials had earlier reported that Salm Partners, another meatpacking company in nearby Denmark, had 17 cases. But in yesterday’s briefing, Public Health Strategist Claire Paprocki said the county will no longer be reporting numbers from Salm Partners at the request of the company. 

Mary Schmidt, who handles communications for Salm Partners, said the company chose to withhold its latest case counts until comprehensive testing results from last week and Monday are available. 

“Anything we would report until then would be misleading and inaccurate,” Schmidt said in an email, adding that test results may be available later this week. 

During a call with reporters, Paprocki said the county would in theory agree to similar requests from JBS or American Foods Group “as long as they were willing to be able to speak with you guys and give you that information.” 

See an earlier story on outbreaks linked to meatpacking plants in the county: 

— Dr. Jo Handelsman, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison warns that bacterial infections may follow the coronavirus pandemic.

That could yield a deadly outcome with the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

“That’s something that we always worry about with respiratory infections or viral infections, that they often are followed by bacterial infections which are very difficult to get rid of without antibiotics,” said Handelsman in the Wisconsin Technology Council’s “Crossing the coronavirus chasm” webinar.

She noted that most people who died during the 1918 flu epidemic did so from a bacterial infection that followed the flu. But fewer people died in later flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, which Handelsman said was due to antibiotics. 

According to Handelsman, the CDC predicts that antibiotic resistant bacteria will be the leading cause of death worldwide by 2050 — and WHO concurs. But Handelsman pointed out that some people say that’s even too conservative. 

“There could be a lot of deaths between now and then,” she said. 

Handelsman argues the population is more susceptible to antibiotic resistant bacteria today because of the increased use of antibiotics for things people didn’t have in the past: cancer treatments, surgeries and transplants to name a few. 

“But this is one that if we ignore too long, will get the better of us,” she said. “And there’s still time to keep antibiotics as a frontline defense against bacterial infections.” 

Tiny Earth, launched officially in 2018 by Handelsman and housed in WID, is a network of instructors and students focused on antibiotic discovery from soil. The mission of the program is to address the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics utilizing student researchers.

“One of the problems is the length of time it takes to register a drug. Anything we discover today, probably wouldn’t be on the market until 2030,” said Handelsman. “I think this is the time to think about it. If you assume a 10-year lag time… We really need to get going on this.”

— The Department of Health Services reports the state COVID-19 death toll at 300 — up 19 people from the last count.

Confirmed cases rose 208 since Monday, bringing total confirmed cases to 6,289. 

DHS’s hospital dashboard also reports 351 COVID patients in hospitals statewide, an increase of 14 from yesterday’s 337, and above the week’s average of 347 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 after three days of a downward trend. The Badger Bounce Back plan has a goal of a two-week decline in daily positive test results as a share of total tests.

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

— The Department of Health Services wants to use “contact tracing on steroids” to box in people with coronavirus, rather than the whole population.

“With this new approach, what we want to do is start the contact tracing when the test is taken, so that everyone who has a test knows ‘I need to isolate until I get this test result.’ We know we’re getting all the good contact information to be in touch with that person once we have the test results, and so it’s moving it much earlier in the process,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.

She added that expanded testing and technologies, such as texting or online applications, can elevate contact tracing. 

Right now, only 2,000-3,000 COVID-19 tests are being used per day, but the state’s capacity is almost 11,000 — shy of Governor Tony Evers’ goal of about 12,000 tests per day or 85,000 per week.

“Anyone with symptoms should ask to be tested,” Willems Van Dijk told reporters in a DHS press call. But she attributes the lack of expanded testing to the recently lifted guidelines that put testing emphasis on only the most vulnerable population. 

DHS has 259 contact tracers currently working in the field. The department is bringing on 78 more. Plus an additional 50 are in training this week working towards a goal of 1,000 contact tracers between DHS and local public health departments. 

“Contact tracing is nothing new to public health people. We have been doing this for centuries to control disease,’’ she said. “This is a very common skill that health practitioners have. However, this is like contact tracing on steroids, because of the number of people we’re talking about.”

— The state has put on hold construction of an alternative care facility at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, according to a top health official.

Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters yesterday the agency had made contact with the Army Corps of Engineers on the state’s plan for the facility and initial designs were complete. But she said officials no longer see an “imminent need.”

“If things should change, we can reinstitute those plans moving forward,” she said.

Alternative care facilities are designed to provide relief to hospitals if they exceed surge capacity of COVID-19 cases. Willems Van Dijk said hospitals could transport patients who tested positive for coronavirus but are no longer in need of urgent care to an alternative care facility.

The state has only built one such facility so far, a 600-bed temporary hospital at the State Fair Park Expo Center in West Allis. Wisconsin Emergency Management spokesman Andrew Beckett told as of this afternoon, there are no patients at the facility.

Willems Van Dijk also said voluntary isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients in Madison and Milwaukee have never reached capacity. Beckett said the Madison facility was currently housing one person and had housed eight so far this month while the Milwaukee facility currently has 19 people and a total of 37 since April 1.

But Willems Van Dijk counseled against shutting them, saying the centers are an “important resource as we move from mitigation to containment.”

“As we begin to open up Wisconsin and more of us go out to more places, we will increase the risk for disease transmission,” she said. “That is likely when we will need those isolation facilities more than we do right now.”

See the briefing:

— Of the state’s 6,289 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, 23 percent were hospitalized, 6 percent received intensive care and 5 percent have died, according to DHS.

Counties reporting deaths include Milwaukee (174), Dane (22), Waukesha (16), Racine (12), Kenosha (9), Ozaukee (9), Walworth (8), Rock (6), Grant (5) and Washington (4). 

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

Outagamie, Richland and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Columbia, Dodge, Door, 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.

Patients over the age of 50 account for about 49 percent of confirmed cases, 78 percent of hospitalizations, 83 percent of intensive care patients and 95 percent of deaths.

Nineteen percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50-59. This is followed by people 40-49 (17 percent) and 30-39 (16 percent).

Eight percent of the people infected by COVID-19 live in a long-term care facility and 3 percent live in a group housing facility. Forty-nine percent are unknown.

In Wisconsin, women make up 52 percent of the confirmed cases and account for 40 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, men make up 48 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 60 percent of deaths.

The African American community makes up 24 percent of the state’s confirmed cases, but account for 33 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information:

— Health leaders are looking to COVID-19 hospital admissions as a key metric as care providers across the state begin to resume conducting procedures that had been delayed in the initial pandemic response phase. 

Dr. Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Hospital Association, noted that testing for COVID-19 has been “very unstable, very dynamic” as criteria have shifted on testing guidelines. 

He said the uncertainty surrounding testing numbers makes it difficult for leaders to make well-informed decisions. 

“What’s a leading indicator, what’s a trend that I can really look at that’s not impacted by things like the variability in testing?” he said yesterday during a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “Hospitalized per day is really a very good metric from my standpoint.” 

He noted that hospitalizations per day have been trending downward over the past two weeks. 

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urged hospitals to scale back non-essential surgeries and procedures in mid-March in order to minimize the risk of exposure to the health care workforce. 

Under new guidance released by CMS on April 19, hospitals are being told they can begin loosening restrictions on procedures, according to Eric Borgerding, president of WHA. 

“What we’re seeing now across Wisconsin to varying degrees but almost universally to some degree, are hospitals and health systems very cautiously taking steps to phase back into providing some of these essential and necessary services,” Borgerding said. 

See WHA’s COVID-19 dashboard: 

— GOP legislative leaders say the Evers administration hasn’t started working with them yet on the emergency rule they’re pursuing as part of a lawsuit focused on the extended stay-at-home order.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, are calling for Gov. Tony Evers to consider a regional reopening of the economy as they criticize him for leaving them out of the loop.

“The biggest item that has to be addressed, which they are completely dug in on, is they will not take a regional approach to this at this point,” Fitzgerald said yesterday. “The sooner that changes, the better off we all will be. Minocqua is not Milwaukee.”

During a call hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Milwaukee 7, he argued that parts of the state seeing lower numbers of cases and deaths should be opened up more quickly than others. Vos echoed his point and said lawmakers should be “much more involved” in the decision-making process around the pandemic response.

“The governor’s top priority remains keeping people healthy and safe, which is why he introduced a comprehensive plan that will ensure our economy continues to gain momentum while doing just that,” said Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback in an email. “If Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald have a science-based, data-driven plan of their own they’d like us to review, we’d be happy to take a look.”

The GOP lawsuit, filed with the state Supreme Court, aims to overturn the latest extension of the stay-at-home order, which is set to expire May 26. The guv’s office and state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm have rolled out a plan for loosening restrictions based on a number of factors, but Vos and Fitzgerald say they want to negotiate with Evers on details of the plan.

Last week, they sent Palm a letter asking her to work with them on an emergency rule to deal with COVID-19 that could pass the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Administrative Rule.

Evers has called the lawsuit a political power grab that ignores the health concerns of Wisconsin residents.

“And at what point should the Legislature — the branch of government closest to the people — when should we be consulted?” Fitzgerald said. “We feel that there should be an ongoing discussion, because what the secretary has been rolling out is basically a set of rules that have the same power as statute.”

Vos pointed to other states where split governments are finding ways to work together as examples of how the process should be happening in Wisconsin.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all, but we certainly can learn from the best ideas of everybody and try to bring more people into the discussion, as opposed to making the decisions that seem like they’re not always based in rational decision-making, and it seems they are more gut reaction,” Vos said.

The two GOP leaders sent Evers a letter last week requesting a sit-down meeting to discuss “how could we work together on this,” Vos said. But they say they haven’t gotten a response.

— UW-Madison disease expert Thomas Friedrich says genetic sequencing results suggest that COVID-19 hotspots in the Milwaukee and Madison regions originated from different areas. 

During the latest edition of the “UW Now” webinar series, Friedrich explained that genetic testing of the virus in Dane County revealed evidence of many different introductions, where an infected person carried the virus from somewhere else into Dane County. 

“Primarily those viruses seem to have come from Europe,” Friedrich said yesterday. “In a sense, we have a lot of small, independent fires here in Dane County.” 

By contrast, the Milwaukee area has had “fewer and possibly earlier” introductions of the virus, he noted. Most versions of the COVID-19 virus in Milwaukee County are closely related to the viruses detected in Asia in January and February of this year, he said. Milwaukee County is experiencing significant community spread, and has the highest number of confirmed cases of any county in the state. 

“The cases we’re seeing in the Milwaukee area are not from newly imported cases, but primarily in this data, from cases acquired in the Milwaukee area,” Friedrich said. “We have a smaller number of larger, more established fires in the Milwaukee area.” 

Because so many of the sequenced COVID-19 viruses in Dane and Milwaukee counties are genetically different, Friedrich says “there’s not been much mixing between the two locations.” He said that shows the travel restrictions have had some success. 

His lab is one of many around the world that are genetically sequencing largely similar but slightly different versions of the virus. He explained that if and when a vaccine is developed for the virus, it will likely work against all the different genetic variations. 

More than 80 different vaccines are in development, but Friedrich noted most are still “a long ways off.” And in the interim, he said no results have emerged to suggest any candidates are particularly effective. 

Meanwhile, scientists in his lab are working to address key questions about the nature of the virus, including why the disease is so much worse in some people than others. They’re exploring which countermeasures and treatments may work, as well as continuing to trace the path of the virus through Wisconsin. 

Friedrich also gave an overview of the CoVen group, which seeks to advance the scientific field around COVID-19 more quickly by working together rather than competing to find effective treatments and insights about the virus. 

“We have to find ways that scientists across institutions and across the world can collaborate to find the best treatments,” he said. 

Watch the previous edition of UW Now here: 


# Unions seek to intervene in lawsuit challenging stay at home order

# State officials pause plans for COVID-19 overflow center in Madison

# Coronavirus outbreaks at Wisconsin meatpacking plants: Is the meat safe to eat?

# Rockwell headquarters manufacturing line restart delayed by pandemic



– State farmers finished planting 11 percent of corn crop


– Survey: Nearly 90% of Wis. contractors see project delays or shutdowns this spring

– San Diego developer acquires nearly 180 acres in Pleasant Prairie for residential development


– The essentialists: For many workers, ‘safer at home’ isn’t an option

– Restaurant owners struggle to stay afloat weeks into ‘Safer At Home’


– Culver’s forgoes May 7 Scoops of Thanks promotion


– Wisconsin Poison Center sees uptick in calls about household cleaners since COVID-19 arrived

– FEMA working with state to deliver supplies for COVID-19 response but barriers remain

– COVID-19 patient back home after receiving plasma, ventilator alternative at Froedtert

– Advocate Aurora chief nursing officer on the COVID-19 fight


– Unions seek to join lawsuit challenging stay-at-home order

– Short term rental company Frontdesk raises $6.8M, hopes to rehire employees


– Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret sees coronavirus altering global supply chains

– Harley-Davidson looks to ‘rewire’ after coronavirus ruins promising quarter

– Harley-Davidson strategy overhaul will include new electric, streetfighter bikes; no news on CEO


– Bader Philanthropies distributes $1.4 million in emergency funding for nonprofits


– Pfaff is officially running for state Senate in District 32

– The Latest: 52 positive cases tied to Wisconsin election

– Vos, Fitzgerald say they want to meet with Gov. Evers on regional reopening plan


– WHEDA awards $10.2 million in tax credits to southeast Wisconsin housing projects


– COVID outbreak forces JBS Packerland to shut down


– Lotto ticket sold in Jackson County a $10.7 million winner

– Gov. Evers further loosens restrictions on nonessential businesses in Wisconsin


– Dane County to seek proposals for large solar project


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Carthage College: Students win prestigious Lemelson-MIT student prize honoring top collegiate inventors

TDS: Launches new virtual tech visit tool