WED AM News: Rural, urban health care systems promote telehealth and broadband required to effectively use it; Fragrant Isle lavender farm flourishes on Washington Island

— Some of Martine Anderson’s fondest memories of her 20s — when she lived in the south of France – are the deep blue Provence sky and the pungent smells of lavender and thyme on warm summer afternoons. 

“I will never forget the colors, the scents and the songs of the cicadas,” said Anderson, who moved to the United States at age 27 and had a long career working for prestigious companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. 

“For me, Provence was a little piece of paradise,” she mused. 

Anderson, who was born in Paris and grew up in Africa, dreamed of having her own lavender garden. But she never imagined that one day she’d be running a large lavender farm in northeast Wisconsin — surrounded by one of the Great Lakes.

That’s exactly what Anderson and her husband Edgar are doing these days on Washington Island, a 25-minute ferry ride from the northern tip of the Door peninsula.  

Edgar grew up in Honduras — where there is no lavender — trained as an architect in Florida and spent his career working for McDonald’s Corp. overseeing construction, engineering and equipment for the company around the globe. He was constantly traveling, which he said wore him out. To relax, the couple frequently visited Door County for getaways from their home in Chicago.

Read the full story at 

— Before COVID-19, telehealth was used by patients primarily to see specialists often located halfway across the state. Due to insurance regulations and reimbursement rules, patients had to use the telehealth services in an approved location, such as a clinic, hospital or nursing home. 

When COVID struck, hospital systems such as Marshfield Clinic and UW Health knew they had the ability to continue seeing patients via telehealth. But one challenge: no reimbursement for the patient being in their own home during the virtual visit. 

That changed when the CARES Act provided a waiver, paying for two-way video and phone calls, said Chris Meyers, director of virtual health at Marshfield Clinic. President Trump signed an executive order in early August to help rural health care providers permanently extend some of those telehealth practices.

Marshfield Clinic started ramping up its already existing telehealth process on March 16 and nine days later, when the state’s “Safer at Home” order took effect, it had its first patient across the updated platform. The biggest cost for the health system was for people — it had to train all 1,500 providers in one week after only 150 doctors were using the telehealth platform pre-COVID. Meyers’ team went from a staff of 14 to 80.

UW Health also rapidly ramped up video visits — investing “hundreds of thousands” in hardware and software licensure and peaking at 1,500 virtual visits per day mid-pandemic, according to Elsa Jacobson, director of telehealth at UW Health. The health system continues to conduct more than 1,000 visits per day while beginning to open back up.

Marshfield’s telehealth program has been largely funded by federal grants. About $150,000 worth of that went for iPads for health care workers to communicate with patients without going in and out of rooms due to COVID-19.

Read the full story at

— The Big Ten Conference announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season yesterday citing coronavirus, including all regular-season contests and conference championships and tournaments.

“While it was by no means an easy decision for our conference to make, it was without question the right one,” said UW-Madison Athletic Director Barry Alvarez in a newsletter. “We say again and again that the health and well-being of our student-athletes is our No. 1 priority and our decisions have to reflect that.”

Hours prior to the announcement, Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond noted that while he would like to see college football this year, there are a lot of challenges due to the number of players and staff that would have to be in close contact.

“The NBA bubble system is working well,” he said. The bubble system keeps a small number of players protected from the outside world. There are occasionally a few breaches, but generally it has worked well. 

However, Major League Baseball, with a larger team and coaching staff, has had significant outbreaks “that may imperil the entire season,” Raymond said. 

“If you want to multiply that by five- or ten-fold when you think about college football, you’ll have hundreds of people trying to bubble, and they’re going to be in violent close proximity with each other at least a couple times a week,” he said.

Raymond did note that on the other hand, it may be unlikely that players contract COVID-19 on the field, and instead get it like many other young people — interacting in the real world. 

“We’re in new territory now, I don’t know what the right answer is,” he said. 

See the Big Ten announcement: 

— With the start of school looming weeks ahead, Wisconsin’s school districts are making decisions on whether to open doors, or open laptops. 

Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school system in the state, educates 66,000 students and has chosen to open virtually. The other 46,000 students in Milwaukee were waiting for the city to produce protocols — published last night — for schools who feel they can safely open in person.

Dr. Silvia Munoz-Price with the MCW has worked in infection control for over 10 years. She said the main challenge is to translate what’s put on paper to what actually happens. 

“I think it was a smart decision to keep the public schools online though it has its challenges,” she said. “The schools that have decided to go hybrid — I hope that they are prepared to translate what they have on paper to actual actions, because if not, we’re quickly going to see an increasing number of positive tests in our young population.”

Health officials are juggling the multiple impacts of either decision from protecting students and school staff, the ability and access to learn from home, social development, mental health and the impact on parents who need to work. 

“All of those factors really have to be put together into one picture and there’s no right answer,” Raymond said. “The best we can do is to keep the cohort of students small, keep them from interacting with each other, wear masks, wash hands, socially distance, sanitize and do extra things to protect the safety and welfare of the teachers in particular. It isn’t just the schools; it’s how much of a burden of COVID-19 do you have in your community and what direction is it going.” 

— Wisconsin’s coronavirus death rate surpassed 1,000 yesterday after adding eight deaths since Monday. That brings the death toll to 1,006. 

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (458), Racine (79), Kenosha (60), Waukesha (59), Brown (54), Dane (38), Rock (26), Walworth (23), Washington (22), Winnebago (18), Ozaukee (17), Grant (15), Waupaca (15), Outagamie (14), Marathon (10), Sheboygan (8), Clark (8), Fond du Lac (7), Dodge (5), Jefferson (5), St. Croix (5), Eau Claire (4), Forest (4), Marinette (4) and Richland (4). 

Barron, Door, Pierce and Sauk counties report three deaths each. Adams, Buffalo, Calumet, Columbia, Kewaunee, Monroe, Polk, Trempealeau and Wood counties report two deaths each.

Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marquette, Rusk, Taylor and Waushara counties report one death each.

Health officials say a general relaxation of vigilance against the coronavirus is one reason the state hit this grim milestone.

The state has recently experienced death counts averaging between eight and 12 per day reflecting the spread of COVID-19 that occurred four to six weeks ago, several Wisconsin health leaders and officials told 

The first half of July averaged under five deaths-per-day, according to data on the Department of Health Services’ coronavirus dashboard.

“The death rate in Wisconsin was relatively steady from March through May, and dipped in June and early July,” said Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond. “Although it is difficult to ascribe cause and effect to a single intervention, it seems likely that the dip in deaths was a positive result of the Safer at Home order.”

Death rates have been rising over the past few weeks to the same levels the state experienced in May. Raymond attributed the trend to many factors including the lifting of the extended Safer at Home on May 13, Memorial Day celebrations, the Fourth of July holiday, protests, family summer gatherings and overall “generally relaxed vigilance.” 

Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide order limiting activities, shopping and socializing was in effect from March 25 to May 13, 13 days before it was set to expire. 

“The increase in deaths reflects the increase in transmission that we’ve been seeing over the past month,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

Read the full story at  

— The Badger State is doing better than its neighbors at 17 deaths per 100,000 residents according to the CDC. 

Michigan is at 65 deaths per 100,000 residents, followed by Illinois (62), Minnesota (30) and Iowa (29). 

Dr. Parameswaran Hari of the MCW said that Wisconsin is doing better than its neighboring states because of the culture, the geographic distance and willingness to follow mitigation suggestions. 

“We are probably a little bit more health conscious and lucky that geographically, outside of metropolitan areas, we are essentially social distancing anyway,” Hari told a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce briefing. Additionally, “we’ve had a steady trickle of patients who got infected, but people are very law abiding in terms of when we tell people that this is a real issue that they need to be careful about. I’m just surprised at how responsive patients have been.” 

Raymond also noted that business groups, such as MMAC, that have provided “well curated, scientific data” to employers, also made a “significant difference” in why Wisconsin’s death rate is better than its neighboring states.

— COVID-19 hospitalizations number 414, up 84 patients from last Thursday, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s coronavirus data dashboard.

That’s a 90 percent increase from the state’s low on July 4, but not near the highs Wisconsin health systems experienced in March and April, Raymond said. 

COVID-19 ICU patients number 119, up 7 patients from Aug. 6. This figure is also rising, compared to the low of 65 on July 5. 

After seeing record cases in the start of July, these hospitalization highs are a result of the lag between the time when people contract COVID-19 and when they need to be hospitalized. 

About 59 percent of Wisconsin’s total COVID-19 patients — 244 — are in southeastern Wisconsin. The association also reports 51 or fewer patients in each of the six other public health regions of the state.

Health care workers account for about 8 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases at 5,105, an increase of 298 cases over Aug. 6, according to DHS.

About 8.2 percent of COVID-19 patients are hospitalized. Early in the pandemic, the state hospitalized about 30 percent of patients with a positive test. This is trending favorably for two reasons, noted Raymond: increased testing capacity allows for earlier testing and earlier treatment; and since the start of the pandmeic, health officials have learned a lot about COVID-19 and how to provide care to patients. 

There are “plenty” of beds available, according to Raymond, and “adequate” ventilation capacity. 

Personal protective equipment trends continue to be stable. The most crucial needs are goggles, gowns and paper masks. However, health systems have new concerns about the vulnerability of PPE supply chains, he said.  

See the WHA hospital dashboard here:

— Wisconsin reports 724 new COVID-19 cases after receiving a total of 13,599 tests yesterday, bringing the percentage of positive tests per total tests up to 8.2 from 6.2 Monday.

The seven-day average for percent positive tests rose to 6.3 percent from 6 percent and the cumulative positive tests per total tests is 5.7 and rising, according to DHS’ figures, continuing to be above the 5 percent threshold.

“The daily positive tests have really increased over the past month,” Raymond said, noting that this weekend marked the largest daily count at 1,165. 

The seven-day average of daily confirmed cases is 818, down from 819 Monday.

The new cases bring the cumulative case count to 61,785. DHS reports that 51,456 have recovered. Meanwhile, 1.6 percent of patients have died.

Wisconsin has a capacity for 24,178 tests per day, a “pretty good capacity,” Raymond said.

However, he noted new concerns about the supply chain, referencing media reports that Aurora Health had to pull back from community testing sites due to shortages of testing reagents.

 “This is something that we’re going to need to monitor over the next few weeks,” he said.


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– Trump Administration Invests $866,000 in Wisconsin to Help Rural Businesses Create Jobs and Increase Economic Opportunities 


– Colleges reverse campus plans as enrollment numbers, financial storms worsen 


– Cream City Foundation names new CEO 


– Kaul Joins Suit Challenging Effort to Bar Foreign Workers 


– Olympus Group continues cutouts and face masks to maintain stability 


– Virtual BizExpo to include 16 free strategy seminars  

– Milwaukee business leaders say diversity and inclusion about action, as well as conversation 


– Wisconsin poll workers set to process thousands of absentee ballots

– Ahead of August primary, Milwaukee County has 168 polling places and absentee ballot returns are up slightly from April election


– Archdiocese of Milwaukee sells two properties for $9 million total 

– Associated Bank proposes RiverWalk improvements 


– It’s official: Big Ten cancels fall football, will seek spring pla 


– Milwaukee Art Museum workers seek to unionize 

– Democrats Announce Milwaukee-Based Speakers For DNC 


– What’s Happening With A New Route For Enbrige’s Line 5 Pipeline? 

– Enbridge Won’t Condemn Private Property For Pipeline Reroute In Northern Wisconsin 


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

– Community Shares of Wisconsin: Local leaders in social and environmental justice to be honored 

– The Port of Green Bay: Sees a dip in cargo shipments in July 

– Eppstein Uhen Architects: Celebrates making an impact in Madison for 15 years 

– Wisconsin Cranberry Growers: Again lead nation in production industry sees increase in domestic sales