FRI AM News: WisBusiness podcast features UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin; China, U.S. at war in trade and tech, says Shanghai trade consultant

— This week’s “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Dustin Hinton, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin. 

It’s open enrollment season in Wisconsin for residents to enroll in a health insurance plan. The individual market is scheduled to begin Nov. 1 and continue through Dec. 13 for 2021 coverage. 

Hinton said with COVID-19, health and wellness are more at attention than they ever have been in the past. It’s crucial, he said, to pick the right benefits for next year. Some new things to look out for are telehealth coverage, which has exploded this year, and health savings accounts, because people’s savings may have dwindled during the recession.

“For employers, I think it’s important to remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “It’s good to offer multiple choice so that employees and their families have the option to look and see what’s the best fit for their family.”

Hinton added that during the pandemic, people may have picked up healthy habits, such as walking or biking. Individuals may want to opt for a plan with wellness programs that incentivize healthy actions.

“We take so much time evaluating purchases of TVs or things like that. Take the time, take a weekend, sit down, think about what your expenses will be next year, and then pick the right benefit plan and really take the time to evaluate it,” he said.  

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— China and the U.S. are having a trade war and a tech war, according to Shanghai trade consultant Kelvin Ma.

In a bonus episode of “Talking Trade,” Jeff Mayers of talks with Ma, who got his law degree from UW-Madison, about the possibility of entering a new Cold War with China over economic power. 

The video podcast explores trade issues affecting Wisconsin and the Midwest.

See the show, supported by the Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison: 

— The state will see $33 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve rural electric infrastructure. 

Wisconsin is one of 25 states to get a share of the USDA’s $3.1 billion investment. 

Butter Solar will use a $23 million loan to partially finance the development of a 22.9-megawatt solar project at seven facilities in Wisconsin: Arcadia, Argyle, Cashton, Cumberland, Elroy, Fennimore and New Lisbon. It will also have two solar projects in Minnesota and one in Iowa. Each facility ranges from 0.6 to 5 megawatts.

Hammond-based St. Croix Electric Cooperative, which serves four counties in western Wisconsin, will use a $10 million loan to connect 952 consumers and build 33 miles of line. This loan includes $721,000 in smart grid technologies.

Wisconsin’s USDA Rural Development Director Frank Frassetto also announced yesterday a record level of funding to upgrade rural infrastructure and specifically the Electric Loan Program. 

“Rural electric cooperatives and utilities are increasing their internal communications capabilities to improve the reliability and efficiency of the electric grid,” Frassetto said. “This added communications capacity helps cooperatives and their partners expand broadband coverage as they leverage these USDA smart grid investments.”

— Even as most Wisconsin counties rank “very high” for COVID activity, the state’s chief medical officer says the spread could be up to 20 times worse without mitigation measures.

“Left to its own devices, we could have 10 times more cases and more deaths than we have right now, in fact, that’s what would be expected if we didn’t do infection prevention like we’re doing,” Dr. Ryan Westergaard said during a Department of Health Services briefing. “Knowing what we know about this virus, it could have been dramatically worse, 10, 20 times worse than it is. The only reason it’s not is because we have done the things that evidence shows reduces transmission.”

He said the science is clear that masking and social distancing work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Westergaard’s comments came as all but four of Wisconsin’s 72 counties rank “very high” for COVID-19 activity, according to the state health department’s weekly surveillance. That’s up from 57 last week. Burnett, Douglas, Pierce and Polk counties rank “high” for COVID-19 activity.

Wisconsin saw a 21 percent case increase in the two-week period leading up to Tuesday.

Gov. Tony Evers was asked about changing the state’s approach to public health messaging, considering the position the state is in. He said the messages of wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing won’t change unless the science changes.

“I just can’t make up crap out of thin air here,” he said.

The guv expressed frustration with President Trump’s message that the U.S. is “turning the corner” on COVID-19, which Evers says is “dead wrong.”

“There is a belief I think in most parts of this country that the president thinks that this isn’t a big deal,” he said. “We need consistent communication from our leaders and we’re not getting it.”

— Evers said extending his order limiting public gatherings to 25 percent of capacity is “certainly something we’re looking at.”

“Never say never in this business; we’ll do whatever we can to protect the people of Wisconsin,” he said during the health briefing. “Anything is on the table, but no decisions have been made yet.”

Wisconsin reported 3,413 COVID-19 cases yesterday and 22 deaths.

The state has a seven-day single-day average of 3,396 cases and 21 deaths.

Over 186,000 Wisconsinites have been infected with COVID-19 and the state’s death toll has reached 1,703.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— The Alternative Care Facility at State Fair Park has admitted a single patient since Oct. 14. 

The West Allis field hospital is designed to serve as an overflow facility for hospitals across the state. 

“We should celebrate every patient that doesn’t come to the Alternate Care Facility,” said Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. “That means we are managing this disease.” 

Palm and facility leader Deb Standridge said the state is in daily conversations with health care partners on how the state can integrate with them throughout changes in the community. 

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations number a record 1,230 as of yesterday. The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s coronavirus data dashboard reports intensive care units also at a record of 328 patients.

Hospitalizations across the state increased 22 percent over last week, said Palm. ICU numbers are up 21 percent over last week.  

Standridge said the brand new patient care model is a challenge. The facility is “not their neighborhood hospital,” she said. The State Fair Park facility has sent brochures to health systems to give patients and has conversations with patients and their families to familiarize patients with the facility.

“This is brand new,” Standridge said. “It’s unknown to the patient, and those continual conversations we need to have with patients and families during this unprecedented time is what’s occurring right now — familiarizing them with this brand new model that is in place in Wisconsin.”

See the ACF patient tracker here: 

Click here to see the WHA dashboard: 

— The Department of Health Services’ coronavirus data now displays cases, hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity to illustrate health inequities of COVID-19 among people of color. 

The Hispanic and Latino population has the greatest infection rate in the state at 62.9 cases per 1,000 population. Hispanic and Latino individuals make up 7.1 percent of the state’s population, but account for 15 percent of all COVID-19 cases. White Wisconsinites have an infection rate of 25.8 and account for 70.6 percent of all COVID-19 cases while making up 80.9 percent of the population.

Black Wisconsinites, who account for 6.4 percent of the state’s population, have the highest hospitalization rate in the state at 4.3 hospitalizations per 1,000 people. Black residents also have the highest death rate in the state at 0.7 deaths per 1,000 people. By comparison, white residents have a hospitalization rate of 1.3 and a death rate of 0.3.

Social determinants of health — social factors that have been and continue to be shaped by racism and discrimination — create unfair vulnerabilities and barriers for communities of color, according to DHS. These underlying factors include policy choices, discrimination and racism, housing, income or accessibility to health care.

“COVID-19 reminds us of the fact that every person’s health is intertwined with the health of their neighbors in our communities,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “Our Black neighbors, Tribal Nations, Latinx communities, and other communities of color are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.”

DHS noted that despite these barriers, many tribal nations and communities of color have limited the devastating impacts of COVID-19 in their communities by working together and taking public health precautions seriously, such as limiting activity in the community, wearing face coverings and physical distancing.

See the dashboard here: 

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce claims that La Crosse County lacks the legal authority for its recent health order limiting indoor public gatherings. 

The health advisory order, issued late last week, limits indoor public gatherings to 25 percent of capacity and gives La Crosse County enforcement authority over businesses that do not comply with the order.

WMC sent a letter to the county’s administrator and board of supervisors yesterday outlining the “questionable” legal authority it has to issue the order. The chamber claims it would inflict significant economic harm on residents and businesses.

In announcing the capacity limits, La Crosse County cited the COVID-19 pandemic growing at a “concerning rate.” The county’s coronavirus cases more than doubled from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1. Its current case rate is 33.5 infections per 1,000 population. That’s above the state’s infection rate of 32.2.  

WMC’s letter explains that the county’s order is not only “legally deficient” but also “bad public policy that will create confusion, uncertainty and fear.”

“WMC believes this education, rather than regulatory mandates including this ‘advisory’ Order, is the best way to collaboratively move forward and slow the spread of COVID-19,” said WMC General Counsel Cory Fish in the letter.

The letter goes on to state that enforcing such an order could lead to significant amounts of permanent business closures and job losses for county residents.

See the county order:—10-16-20.pdf  

See the letter: 

— UW-Madison will expand its systematic COVID-19 testing program at the start of spring semester to ensure that all students will be tested twice each week. 

Regular testing will be required for employees working on campus as well.

This represents a significant expansion over the current program, where weekly testing occurs for students living in residence halls and for workers in housing and food service. Other students and staff are tested only if they choose to make an appointment at a campus testing site, or if they participate in surveillance testing.

“I am pleased that we will be able to expand our testing in January,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “This will help us identify any students or staff who are ill much more quickly.” 

The campus saw a spike in cases at the start of the fall semester that has since declined. The weekly infection rate for the 18-24 age group went from 7.6 cases per 1,000 population the week of Sept. 6 to 3.8 the week of Oct. 11. 

The university attributes the decline in transmission rates among college students to quick detection through testing, quarantine efforts, contact tracing and adherence to public health measures.


# ‘This is going to be a long haul’: Local taverns close for the winter

# Milwaukee eliminates warnings, may increase fines for violating Covid-19 restrictions

# WFU Plans to Launch Dairy Supply Chain Video Soon



– Southern Wisconsin farmer says harvest conditions good with 1,000 acres to go 

– Grassland 2.0 Aims to Grow Grassland Agriculture in Wisconsin 

– Newly-Formed Wisconsin Pork Group Gets Rolling 

– Wisconsin Duo Raises Awareness and Money With Ag-Themed Clothing 


– Colleges throw cold water on spring breaks in effort to avoid Covid shutdowns, shore up finances 

– As Enrollment Declines, Some School Districts Feel The Effect More Than Others 


– Help Stop the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species 


– Milwaukee businesses could start seeing Restart funding next week 


– Study Shows COVID-19 Spillover From Colleges To Nursing Homes

– Coronavirus activity widespread across Wisconsin as state passes 1,700 deaths from the virus

– Milwaukee-area hospitals not suspending elective procedures during new wave of Covid-19 hospitalizations 

– Children’s Wisconsin will expand emergency, trauma center at its main campus 


– The Pandemic Made Wisconsin’s April Election Rough. Many Of The Same Obstacles Remain In November.


– Single-family project could add $16M in property value to Mount Pleasant 


– Fleet Farm signs multi-year sponsorship agreement with Milwaukee Brewers 


– As Milwaukee occupancy declines, hotels need to figure out how to survive winter months 


– State Regulators Bar All Utilities From Shutting Off Water, Power And Heat Until Next Spring 


– InsideWis: Here are trends that may shape Wisconsin’s post-COVID economy 


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

– New North: Releases video, web page tributes to its investors 

– U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: Trump administration invests $33 million in rural electric infrastructure in Wisconsin