WED AM News: Manufacturer providing rollers for critical supply chains; Wisconsin ‘close to’ becoming hot spot for coronavirus

— A Racine-based manufacturer is taking steps to protect workers during the pandemic, while continuing to churn out products for critical medical supply chains. 

American Roller and Plasma Coatings supplies industrial rollers to 3M that are used in machines that produce N95 masks. And the company sells to Du Pont, which makes the Tyvek brand medical gowns. Machines that create the non-woven materials used in those gowns require a steady supply of rollers, which are used up every month or so. 

Company President and CEO Dan Calahane explained the rollers are an “integral part” of those companies’ operations. 

“In some regards it might have been easier to take two weeks and just shut down, and just let everybody go home and re-start up,” he said yesterday during a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and M7. “But for us, that was never really an option.”

The business has about 300 employees spread across five states, as well as operations in Shanghai. According to Calahane, that Chinese presence gave company leaders an early understanding of the virus in January and February, before it registered for many other U.S. firms. 

He said the company American Roller has instituted new cleaning measures and response plans during the pandemic, with consideration for potential challenges such as workers getting sick. At the moment, 14 workers have tested negative for the virus and another is self-quarantining but isn’t being tested. 

“From day one, it’s been critical to focus on employee health, because that drives every other decision that we will make,” Calahane said. “Our employees are our business, so if we don’t take care of them first, nothing else will matter.” 

After new cleaning procedures were put in place, the company began shipping cleaning equipment and suits out to each of its locations. In case of an on-site infection, Calahane said the shut-down plan has evolved over time to become more flexible. 

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— Adage Capital Founder Phill Gross says Wisconsin is close to becoming a hotspot for the coronavirus. 

“It’s one of those states to watch to see if there’s spread,” he said yesterday during a webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Gross is an investor who’s spent his career focused on the health care sector. 

He noted the number of tests being performed in the state has been “pretty stable” around 1,500 tests per day. But the positive test ratio in Wisconsin has slowly risen from 6 percent to 8 percent, and he said those results will be “very important to watch.” 

Gross also touched on the potential for “reopening” regional economies once new cases start to decline. He said that process could begin once sustained reduction in the number of new cases is seen for at least 14 days. 

“We need, though, an ability to conduct active monitoring of confirmed cases and their contacts,” he said. “That’s something that we’re not talking about right now, and it’s something that has to be in place if we don’t want this spread to come back and have a double peak.” 

If the virus begins to subside in the warmer months as expected by some medical experts, Gross noted it could still come back in the fall once temperatures drop again. 

“It’s highly likely it will,” he said. “It’s a very dynamic situation, but I think you can count on it coming back. Herd immunity will not be high enough given the highly infectious nature of the virus.”

— Segments of northeast and north-central Wisconsin are experiencing less economic hardship due to the coronavirus outbreak than more populated parts of the state, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

The same trend is being seen across the country, the report shows, as more rural states tend to have far fewer cases and smaller economic impacts. 

In Wisconsin, areas surrounding Madison, La Crosse, Fond du Lac and Racine are seeing a slight economic impact, based on factors such as trade and travel disruptions, exposure to the virus, tourism, commodities and demographics. 

By the same measure, Milwaukee, Waukesha, West Allis and Kenosha are seeing an average impact. And the economic impact seen in Minneapolis and St. Paul is bleeding over the edge of western Wisconsin. 

Other areas of the state seeing isolated economic impact include Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh and Sheboygan. 

Wisconsin isn’t seeing any “major” economic impacts by the report’s definition, though the Chicago area just over the Illinois border is heavily impacted. 

Still, report authors note the outbreak’s slower pace in rural America may be leading some to take response measures less seriously. But with a higher proportion of elderly residents and widespread shortages of care providers, these regions may face serious risks of their own. 

See the full report: 

— The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports 92 deaths in Wisconsin due to COVID-19 and 2,578 confirmed cases. 

Of those confirmed cases, 29 percent have been hospitalized, according to DHS.

Counties reporting the most deaths are Milwaukee (49), Dane (11), Ozaukee (7) and Waukesha (5). 

Washington County reports three deaths.

Fond du Lac, Racine, Rock, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.  

Kenosha, Outagamie, Iron, Buffalo, Columbia, Waupaca, Winnebago counties report one death each. 

According to DHS, 61 of the state’s 72 counties have at least one confirmed case.

Thirty-eight percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50- 69. This is followed by people ages 40-49 (17 percent).

In Wisconsin, women make up 53 percent of the confirmed cases, but account for 39 percent of deaths. Meanwhile, men make up 47 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 61 percent of the total deaths. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 

— Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond says he’s “beginning to be cautiously optimistic” that Milwaukee won’t exceed its capacity for ICU beds and ventilators. 

“But that story is going to play out over the next week to 10 days,” he said yesterday during a webinar hosted by MCW and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. 

Raymond noted both the state and Milwaukee have continued to “flatten the curve” for new cases of the virus. The daily growth rate of new COVID-19 cases was around 30 percent 10 days ago, and has since fallen to around 12.6 percent, he said. 

Meanwhile, the doubling rate has shown a “favorable trend,” recently increasing to around 5.5 days for Milwaukee and Wisconsin. 

See more coronavirus resources from MMAC: 

— While the full economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be known for some time, Wisconsin’s county and municipal governments “clearly will not be spared from the fiscal havoc,” a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report says.

Almost all communities, but especially state-designated premier resort areas like Rhinelander, Eagle River, Bayfield and the Wisconsin Dells, “are nearly certain to see a sharp decline” in sales tax and hotel room tax revenues, according to the report.

WPF indicated Wisconsin’s communities might be more resilient than those in other states, thanks to an “unusual” 65 percent dependence on state aid, which is cemented in the 2019-21 biennial budget, and property taxes, which the report said tend to weather recessions better than other revenues.

But the report warned some communities allow residents to pay property taxes in installments over the first few months of the year and could now have difficulty collecting the remaining unpaid taxes.

“These communities also stand to suffer significant losses in private-sector jobs and employment,” the report read.

A previous story found finance experts believed the state is currently in a much better financial space than at the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession, but the rainy day fund and recent federal aid still won’t be enough to cushion municipalities and the state in a prolonged downturn.

See’s earlier story:

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— A recent podcast from leaders of the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative explores the industry’s current predicament, as the coronavirus outbreak has heavily impacted dairy product supply chains. 

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association President John Umhoefer talks with host Mike Austin about milk dumping, how producers are dealing with disruptions caused by the outbreak, and more in the latest episode of the Dairy Stream podcast. 

“Honestly, about half of the cheese in the United States moves into this channel that has, to some extent, gone away, at least temporarily,” Umhoefer said. “And in Wisconsin, where we’re really the cheese kings, we’ve lost a massive market for product.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

— Former spokesman for U.S. Health and Human Services under the George W. Bush Administration disapproves of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.

Bill Pierce was the HSS spokesman under former Gov. Tommy Thompson. 

“We know that the White House was aware of what was going on in China and the potential for it in mid-January,” he said in a podcast interview. “I don’t believe they, at the highest level, took it serious enough to start to take those actions.”

Pierce reflected on Thompson’s willingness to refer to the experts in briefings and said Trump should be doing the same rather than “talking about his ratings.” 

“That’s not his realm to deal with, it’s to keep the country focused on what they need to know with the facts,” he said. “I think the president was a little more slow coming to that conclusion, but we’re now seeing that he’s come to that conclusion.” 

Listen to the podcast:

— WARF’s Crossroads of Ideas webinar will feature health experts to highlight how UW-Madison has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The webinar scheduled for Tuesday, April 14 is the first of a three-part series put on by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“UW-Madison researchers are actively contributing to the national and global response to COVID-19,” said UW Communications’ Kelly Tyrrell in a statement. “They’re helping us understand the biology of the virus, designing and implementing interventions, and helping us confront what’s next.”

Tyrrell will be moderating Thursday’s webinar panel of UW biology, health and population scientists such as Malia Jones with the Applied Population Laboratory and Brian Yandell with the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute. 

Sign up for the webinar here:  

— The Wisconsin Technology Council has created a web portal to help connect members of the startup community with short- and long-term employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Tech Council notes many people have recently lost their jobs, and asks companies that are hiring to post openings and select from the list of local candidates. 

See the release: 

See the portal here: 


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– Rep. Kind recommends assistance for paying farmland rent

– Creamery offering incentives for patrons to exit farming

– Fuel dilemma – plenty out there but is it the right kind


– State bankers association requests wider paycheck protection program pipeline


– ProHealth Care pauses construction of new Mukwonago hospital


– Wages and exports were growing in Wisconsin before coronavirus hit

– By the numbers: Mass layoffs in Wisconsin attributed to COVID-19


– UW-Madison CALS diagnostic labs adjust, suspend services 

– Bryant & Stratton College plans to renovate, expand Wauwatosa campus

– In letter to administration, UW grad union demands maintained hourly pay, rent flexibility


– Environmental regulators forge ahead on ‘forever chemicals’ while some work postponed


– DHS: 2,578 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin


– Milwaukee nonprofits turn to virtual galas amid COVID-19 pandemic


– Irgens presses on with BMO Tower project after two workers contract COVID-19

– New Downer Avenue storefront owner sets to ‘maximize’ existing buildings


– Ryder Cup still set for September at Whistling Straits under revised pro golf tournament schedule

– PGA says it’s not postponing Ryder Cup at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits


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

Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, WEDC: Notify farmers of Federal Paycheck Protection Program

WDA: COVID-19 crushing the dairy industry