WED AM News: Manufacturers expect some elements of pandemic response are here to stay; UW researchers have two COVID-19 vaccines in trials

— Manufacturing leaders expect some elements of the industry’s pandemic response, such as reduced business travel and more employees working from home, might be here to stay.

“Nobody is traveling right now, obviously … I think that’s going to be one of the permanent legacies of this crisis,” said Austin Ramirez, CEO of Husco International, a manufacturer of vehicle components with locations in Waukesha and Whitewater. 

During a webinar yesterday hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Ramirez predicted a “permanent, significant downturn in business travel,” adding the associated expense reduction has helped the company better respond to COVID-19. Plus, he noted that holding virtual meetings has saved a lot of time. 

Husco has also eliminated inter-facility travel between three nearby sites in Wisconsin and Iowa, keeping each location self-contained. 

Meanwhile, about 20 percent of the team at Pindel Global Precision have been working from home for the past few months. And company leaders have taken action to limit the spread of the virus among workers still on the manufacturing floor. 

Read the full story at 

— Alliant Energy is planning to acquire six new solar energy projects in the state as part of the company’s long-term strategy for shifting to renewables. 

Pending approval by the state Public Service Commission, the company expects the projects will produce enough energy to power 175,000 homes per year. They’re also expected to create more than 1,200 construction jobs and provide about $80 million in local tax revenues over a 30-year period. 

The projects would be located in Grant, Jefferson, Richland, Rock, Sheboygan and Wood counties. They would range in size from 50 to 200 megawatts. 

“Along with the rest of the Clean Energy Blueprint, these projects will help customers avoid more than $2 billion in long-term costs,” said David de Leon, president of Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin energy company. 

Alliant Energy will be submitting applications for the projects with the PSC this week, according to a release. The company expects the agency to make a decision in the first half of 2021. 

See more on the company’s plans: 

— After Alliant Energy recently announced plans to retire a coal plant in Sheboygan, the Sierra Club of Wisconsin is urging the company to go further and retire another coal plant near Portage. 

“Coal costs us. It pollutes our air and water, it threatens the health of our climate, and now we know it’s also unnecessarily costing customers millions of dollars. We in Wisconsin have had enough. It’s time to retire the Columbia coal plant and go all-in on investing in clean energy,” said Sierra Club volunteer leader Victoria Gillet. 

According to Elizabeth Ward, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club, a recent analysis by the organization found closing both plants and replacing them with renewables would lead to millions in savings for the company’s customers. 

The company announced Friday it would be closing the Edgewater coal plant near Sheboygan, which was losing millions of dollars each year. 

“We are encouraged by Alliant’s recent decision to close Edgewater, and its pledge to build 1000MW of new solar by 2023 will bring new jobs to one of Wisconsin’s fastest growing industries: clean energy,” Ward said in a statement. “Now it’s time to commit to retiring the Columbia coal plant and double down on the benefits for customers, public health, and our climate.”

See the Sierra Club analysis: 

See the statement on the Edgewater plant closing: 

— UW researchers have found that COVID-19 can spread between animals. But they’re not sure if it can be spread from a pet to its owner.

Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka in the UW- Madison School of Veterinary Medicine infected three cats with SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19. In one to three days, the cats had the virus. Then, they put a different cat in each of the cats’ cages. Each cat introduced became infected in three to eight days.

“Cats can transmit the virus between each other, but they don’t and have not been demonstrated to pass the virus between cats, for example, and humans,” said Dr. Mark Markel, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, in a Milwaukee Rotary Club briefing. 

For pet owners who are worried about their companions getting infected, Markel said, “there’s so low of a likelihood that they’re going to be infected, that you don’t need to worry about it.”

But if owners do want to take precautions, Markel advised to keep the pet at home and separate an infected family member from the pet. However, no typical symptoms are shown in animals with COVID-19; even Kawaoka’s cats didn’t show symptoms of coronavirus. 

“Although we do have the ability at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to do SARS-CoV-2 testing of animals, we are trying to do it as little as possible primarily because we are creating the test kits and the media for the human testing,” said Markel. “Most of those resources, the same media and reagents that might be used for animals, are being dedicated to human use.”

Another reason the vet school is reluctant to test pets is the concern that owners will abandon that animal with “no real justification for doing that.”

That’s because there is no evidence that pets do transmit COVID-19 to their owners.

As far as predicting which viruses could jump from animals to humans, UW is hoping to develop a consortium to find out. Markel touted UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health, School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as the leaders of infectious disease research to find out what viruses can spread between animals and humans.

UW is already researching this. The Goldberg Lab sequences viruses and bacteria in Uganda to decide which ones transmit to humans like COVID-19 that went from a bat to a pangolin to a human.

“The answer is a very challenging problem,” said Markel. “The more rational pathway is to be ready when an outbreak begins to begin testing and create testing very quickly. They did do this to some extent with SARS. When there was funding around SARS, there was some initial vaccine development. But the money dried up when SARS went away.”

When funding goes away, it’s difficult to make a vaccine that is adaptable to the next outbreak, he said. 

— UW has two different COVID-19 vaccines in trials. 

One is by Kawaoka and his company FluGen. The other is by Jorge Osorio, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“But the goal is to kind of have a basebone of this vaccine so that if a new in this case, coronavirus, comes in the picture somehow, then you can create a vaccine much more readily than the… 12 to 18 months or earlier or longer that it might take to create a vaccine,” said Markel. “It’s very difficult to predict the next pathogen.”

— DHS reports the state’s COVID-19 death toll at 517 — up three since the last count.

The state’s number of confirmed cases also rose since Monday — by 279 — bringing the cumulative case count to 15,863. The positive tests results account for 3.6 percent of the total tests received Tuesday, continuing the steady decline in positive tests since Saturday’s peak of 6.8 percent.

DHS continues to monitor the spread of this virus at all times, according to Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk, adding she hopes people in close proximity were not harboring COVID-19 over Memorial Day weekend. 

Monitoring the virus will be the work of DHS until there is a vaccine, she said in a briefing.

“Even if we have periods of time when the virus seems more quiet and we haven’t seen as much spread, we know it can come back,” said Willems Van Dijk. “We don’t want to be caught off guard. That’s why testing is so very important for even when we’re not seeing hundreds of cases like we are today when we test, that we want to keep testing so that if we do start to see the virus increase after a lull that we are all prepared.”

An estimated 59 percent of those who tested positive have recovered from COVID-19, while 3 percent of patients have died. Thirty-seven percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (277), Brown (32), Dane (26), Waukesha (26), Racine (25), Kenosha (22), Rock (16), Walworth (13), Grant (12), Ozaukee (11), Outagamie (7), Fond du Lac (5), Clark (4), Richland (4) and Washington (4).

Door, Jefferson, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report three deaths each. Marinette County reports two deaths.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Dodge, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Polk, Waupaca, Winnebago and Wood counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates:

— COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are the highest they’ve been in over a month with 416 patients in hospitals statewide.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s dashboard, that’s up 34 from Monday and 24 from last week. It’s the highest amount of patients statewide since April 14. 

While DHS is aware of the statewide increase, Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk assured that the spike is “nothing that would put us in a surge situation with hospitals.”

“We’re in regular touch with our hospitals, and they have indicated they’re good, but something we want to keep an eye on,” she said.

Of the state’s 15,863 confirmed cases, 15 percent have been hospitalized and 3 percent have received intensive care, according to DHS.

DHS reports that 295 of the total COVID patients are in southeastern Wisconsin, and  fewer than 60 patients are in each of the six other regions of the state.

And Wisconsin appears to have an adequate supply of beds and ventilators, according to WHA.

ICU beds immediately available in the state number 385 out of 1,436 total in Wisconsin; intermediate care beds — 187 out of 878; surgical beds — 1,540 out of 7,206; and isolation beds — beds in negative pressure rooms meant for isolating patients — 1,164 out of 1,970.

Statewide, hospitals have a total of 1,273 ventilators and 307 ventilated patients.

But PPE supplies are still lagging. The WHA data shows that 36 hospitals in the state have seven days or less supply of N95 masks, 34 have a limited supply of gowns and 29 hospitals have limited paper medical masks.

— Regardless of federal funding, the Wisconsin National Guard will continue working the statewide pandemic response.

Specimen collection only requires half of the 1,400 Guard members in the state’s coronavirus response, Wisconsin’s Adjutant General Paul Knapp told reporters in a briefing. 

The other 700 or so citizen soldiers monitor self-isolation facilities and warehousing operations, transport personal protective equipment and testing kits, and assist with a statewide call center and mortuary affairs. The number of soldiers and airmen is based on the requests the Guard has received.

Right now, the Wisconsin National Guard is on a Title 32 order — federal active duty — through June 24. Gov. Tony Evers and other governors requested President Trump to extend Title 32 through July 31. 

“We are available and ready to continue testing under state active duty if that were to expire,” said Knapp. “So as long as the need exists for the Guard to assist in this effort, we’ll be here in one of those statuses or another.”

Willems Van Dijk attributes the increase in state testing to the “great partnership” with the Wisconsin National Guard. 

“The pandemic is likely to last a year or two until we get (a) vaccine, and we’ll continue to need expanded testing,” she said.

Willems Van Dijk noted the funding Evers announced last week will assist local health departments to ramp up testing so that if the Guard is not available, “we have established systems and processes and counties for expanding testing throughout our state.” 

— Despite Dane County meeting its health department’s metrics to begin phase 1 of its reopening plan, state health officials warn “the virus is still out there.”

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the metrics Dane County has met to reopen regarding mitigating COVID-19 “doesn’t mean it’s absent from the community.”

The first phase of Forward Dane allows businesses such as restaurants, gyms and retail establishments to open at 25 percent capacity with physical distancing. 

But Willems Van Dijk said to refrain from going out “with a hundred different friends that you haven’t seen since March.” She recommends being cautious about leaving the house, limiting interactions to a small social circle and diligence with “common sense things,” such as hand washing. 

Phase 1 also allows indoor gatherings at commercial facilities of 50 people or less; indoor gatherings at a private residence of 10 people or less; outdoor gatherings of 50 or less; and reopening public courts and fields.

The order notes that select businesses and activities with high risk for disease transmission, such as K-12 schools and public playgrounds, are still closed.

The county will remain in Phase 1 for a minimum of 14 days, which is one incubation period for COVID-19. In order to get to phase 2, the county has to meet certain criteria. If that’s not met, then the data will be reassessed regularly until the county is ready to continue through the phases.

— The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. announced a new online retail portal to connect shoppers with more than 230 “Main Street” businesses statewide. 

The website, linked below, is a searchable database of locally owned shops organized by region or type of goods that can be bought online or shipped. 

“Local small businesses have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes in a statement. “This is a great opportunity to help sustain local and small businesses in our downtown districts throughout Wisconsin.”

According to a release from the WEDC, in order to be listed, shops must be located in one of the 34 Wisconsin Main Street communities. Wisconsin Main Street is a community development program administered by WEDC that targets Wisconsin’s historic commercial districts. 

Additional offerings from local businesses in Connect Communities member communities will be added in the future, read the release.

Visit the website: 


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# ‘Takeout just isn’t the same’: Handful of restaurants reopen in face of virus



– WFBF seeking 2020 Leadership Institute participants


– Area restaurants carefully approach reopening dine-in service

– Dane County takes first tentative steps toward getting back to business


– Two UWRF students named CAFES outstanding seniors

– Sheila Briggs running for Wisconsin State Superintendent

– Back to school? 1 in 5 teachers are unlikely to return to reopened classrooms this fall, poll says


– NRCS announces second EQIP signup for 2020 funding

– Grazing goats abound: Madison Parks Division hires herd to remove invasive plants


– Advocate Aurora invests in Texas-based PPE manufacturer

– A progress report on how Wisconsin is doing against coronavirus

– Health care field isn’t spared in Wisconsin’s coronavirus job losses


– Wisconsin courts to resume operations with virus controls


– Shuttered for months by coronavirus, hair salons and barbershops reopen for business with new rules


– KABA, Snap-on to offer grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19

– City of La Crosse announces $168,200 in second round of small business relief grants


– Milwaukee Brewers prepping for June spring training 


– Alliant Energy moving ahead with plans for six solar projects


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