FRI AM News: Concerns rise over COVID-19 variants as state sees case hike; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ highlights Veterans Business Outreach Center

— With the rise in new variants, the state’s chief medical officer is warning of a new surge of COVID-19.

Wisconsin reported 1,046 cases coming into today, the most cases in a single day since Feb. 11. This brings the seven-day average for daily confirmed cases to 733, the highest average since mid-February. Today’s seven-day daily case average is nearly double that from a month ago.

“This is a real trend; we are in a new phase of the epidemic that is clearly worse than we were before,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard in a Department of Health Services briefing yesterday. He added that it’s primarily young people — who are unable to get vaccinated — that are driving the curve.

Preliminary numbers from DHS show kids under 18 have been leading all other age groups for weekly case counts for over a month.

Hospitalizations have also started to tick up. The COVID-19 patient census has climbed nearly 15 percent in the past two weeks, according to DHS data.

— DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk warned hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, meaning people could have a positive case for several days or weeks before needing hospitalization.

“You don’t want to wait to see rises in hospitalizations to know that you have an issue. What we really need to be focused on are the testing numbers, the positivity rates and the cases to be the factor that says to us: we need to continue to take action,” Willems Van Dijk said. “This is continuing in the wrong direction, and we need to go back to the tools that we have been using throughout the pandemic, with the addition of everybody getting a vaccine now, to reverse this trend.”

Wisconsin is seeing a county in the “very high” category for COVID-19 disease activity for the first time in over a month. Western Wisconsin’s St. Croix County is seeing “very high” case activity and at least 20 counties are seeing growing case levels.

“We need to remember that COVID-19 is still here and still spreading and we are seeing more variant strains and more cases of those strains,” Willems Van Dijk said.

— Two California strains found in Wisconsin are now deemed variants of concern by the CDC.

DHS has updated its COVID-19 variant webpage with new data tables showing both variants by region and information on the two additional strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

These two variants are called B.1.427 and B.1.429, which DHS identified in Wisconsin in December. These strains were recently upgraded from variants of interest to variants of concern, joining the Brazilian, South African and U.K. strains.

These two new strains were first discovered to be circulating in California in samples dating back to May 2020. Researchers have found that both variants spread more rapidly and easily than the original strain. However, these variants have shown to be less transmissible than the U.K and South African variant strains.

To date, 216 cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 have been confirmed in Wisconsin since December 2020 through whole genome sequencing, a process of decoding the genes of the virus to identify how it changes over time into new variants.

More than half of cases that are sequenced are one of the five variants. The state sequences between 5 and 10 percent of positive cases, Westergaard said.

Health officials are encouraging vaccination to keep the highly infectious COVID-19 strains at bay — more than one-third of Wisconsinites have at least started their vaccine series, according to the Department of Health Services.

“Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate,” Willems Van Dijk said.

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— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Dan Newberry, co-director of the Wisconsin Veterans Business Outreach Center. 

The center, supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, focuses on helping active duty military personnel and veterans launch their own business or grow an existing business. The program is operated in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota in collaboration with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. 

“This is a really good tool to have in your arsenal to become a business owner,” Newberry said. “A lot of times, when veterans get out, they’re kind of unsure what direction they want to go … They don’t really think about ‘oh, you know what, I can start my own business’ so that’s what we’re here for.”

Newberry is a veteran himself serving two tours in Iraq and earning a Purple Heart. He’s also a business owner. 

The Wisconsin VBOC has helped over 200 veterans in one-on-one counseling. Several clients own and operate successful businesses in Wisconsin. 

“Now is a really good time to think about maybe you can become an entrepreneur,” he said. 

Learn more about the program: 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— Neenah’s Valley Visiting Nurse Association Senior Care has announced a multi-million dollar renovation to better accommodate residents with dementia and physical requirements.

The announcement comes with the launch of the public phase of Valley VNA’s “Caring for Generations” campaign. The 113-year-old Wisconsin nonprofit has raised two-thirds of the campaign goal so far. The $3.25 million fundraising initiative will support the wider $6.25 million building project. 

Improvements include enhancing the air filtration systems to help eliminate the spread of airborne diseases. The project will also enable Valley VNA Senior Care to advance the safety of common area spaces such as kitchens, dining areas and lounges. Outdoor courtyards and special amenities will be added or improved.

“This past year has certainly pushed us like we have never been pushed in over 100 years of service. Yet, it only strengthens our desire to keep offering outstanding care, to keep improving, keep delivering and keep going,” said Theresa Pichelmeyer, Valley VNA Senior Care president and CEO. “Having the community help us make our plans a reality would be a welcomed gift to our residents and team.”

— Four environmental and agricultural groups have laid out suggested investments for long-term solutions to Wisconsin’s water quality issues.

The proposal centers on ensuring that directly affected residents have safe wells. It also calls for boosting current conservation efforts, such as hiring more county conservation staff. In addition, it asks the state to foster innovation by investing in conservation science, for example, to address the effects of climate change.  

The plan by Clean Wisconsin, the Dairy Business Association, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin and WI Land+Water comes on the eve of public hearings that start today regarding the 2021-23 state budget.

See the proposal: 

— For more developments in green energy, environmental issues and related policy proposals, visit WisBiz Green in the right-hand column at

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— Marquette University and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation will send $83,000 to 20 groups as part of the 2021 Force for Positive Change awards. 

This year’s awards were the fourth time this statewide competition recognized social entrepreneurship as a model for solving social or environmental challenges. 

“This year’s applicants took the competition to a new level,” said event co-producer Laura Heisler of WARF. “We are thrilled that such high caliber social enterprises, both for-profit and nonprofit, throughout Wisconsin are creating so much impact to benefit our state.”

The winners were selected from 174 initial applications that were then narrowed to 20 finalists by an expert panel of judges from industry, academia and the nonprofit sector.

See the winners: 

— Meanwhile, 25 finalists forge ahead in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest organized by the Wisconsin Technology Council.

The 25 entries representing sectors as broad as health, cleantech, education and innovations in products or services are competing in the finalist round of the 18th annual contest. The contestants have emerged after two rounds of judging.

“It will be young companies such as those advancing in this year’s contest that will help to lead the economic recovery once COVID-19 recedes in Wisconsin and beyond,” said Greg Lynch, chairman of the Tech Council and a partner at the law firm of Michael Best.

Eight of the 25 finalists are women and 17 of 25 hail from outside Dane County.

The top 12 business plans announced in late May will present live to contest judges and people who attend the virtual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference June 2-3. The winners will be announced at the close of the conference.

See the 25 finalists: 


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– Farmer mental health remains a concern 

– Dairy producers benefit from DCHA’s gold standards 

– Farm Tech Days Still on Track for July Show 

– DMC margin falls further in February 

– Championship Cheese Auction Raises $39,125 for Industry 


– Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate eliminating 82 jobs in Milwaukee 


– UW Regent: Campuses Shouldn’t Be Compelling, Coercing Students To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19 

– Marquette goes public with $750 million fundraising campaign 


– Help Shape Deer Management in Wisconsin 

– Emerald Ash Borer Detected in Langlade County 


– ‘An amazing step’: Mass vaccination site opens at UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena 

– Vaccine clinic to open at Superior’s Wessman Arena 

– J&J vaccine shipments to Wisconsin will plunge next week. Here’s who could feel the impact 


– Eight Wisconsinites make Forbes World Billionaires list 


– Wisconsin Election Officials, Groups Raise Concerns About Proposed Election Law Changes 

– Bernier, Rozar introduce bill make Colby the official state cheese 


– Italian Community Center trying to sell some of its 3rd Ward land 


– Despite no limits on outdoor crowds in Dane Co, venue size could put sports, concerts at less than 20 percent capacity 


– Leadership of Steinhafels passed to fourth generation 


– No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers Prepare For Unusual NCAA Volleyball Tournament 


– Wisconsin State Fair surveys public as it continues to plan for 2021 fair 


– The Impact Of A Second Passenger Rail Trip Through Wisconsin 


– Inside Wisconsin: Good times or bad, innovative business ideas can take off 


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

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– Uniting Bridges: Launches New Diversity Awards for the Chippewa Valley

– The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce: Resiliency Showcase to be Held Virtually

– We Energies: Customers urged to stay connected if they are behind on bills