FRI AM News: WisBusiness: the Podcast with John Umhoefer of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association; Researchers exploring COVID-19 mortality factors among ICU patients

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” features a conversation with John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. 

He discusses some of the top growth markets for Wisconsin cheese exports, highlighting some trends in cheese consumption for certain Asian and Middle Eastern countries. He also points to the importance of Mexico and Canada as consumers of cheeses made in the state. 

Umhoefer explains how the pandemic has affected U.S. cheese consumption, as well as supply chain issues. He describes an “amazing roller coaster ride” in 2020 due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. 

“The cheese price at the wholesale level went to a record low of a dollar per pound, and then eight weeks later it went to a record high of three dollars a pound when things began to open up in the summer of 2020,” he said. “None of the supply chain had any cheese because they basically put a halt on things. It was a crazy ride in 2020, and we’re still feeling the effects. Some are positive, some are negative.” 

The discussion also touches on some of the association’s top legislative priorities, including a “truth-in-labeling” effort to restrict the use of certain dairy product names like cheese and milk. 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts: 

— Researchers in Madison have found that both the socioeconomic status of the patient population and hospital strain are contributing to higher mortality rates among COVID-19 patients in hospital ICUs. 

A group of researchers led by Dr. Matthew Churpek, associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, recently published these findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“We found that the biggest determinants were severity of patient condition upon admission to the ICU, followed by the overall socioeconomic status of the population served by each hospital and level of hospital strain,” Churpek said in a release. “These findings suggest that COVID-19 may be exacerbating existing healthcare disparities in the United States.” 

Their study included data from over 4,000 patients with the virus admitted to ICUs at 70 U.S. hospitals between March 4 and June 29 of 2020. About 38 percent of those patients died within 28 days of being admitted to the intensive care unit. 

But the researchers found the mortality rate “varied considerably” across those hospitals, ranging between 0 percent and 82 percent, according to a release. By examining 51 patient variables and 29 hospital variables through a modeling approach, researchers sought to understand the influence of these factors on individual mortality rates. 

On the patient side, factors included illness severity, treatment intensity, age, sex, race, body mass index and history of smoking. Hospital variables included ICU bed capacity taken up by COVID-19 patients, quality scores for things like readmission rates, patient safety, timeliness of treatment and more. 

While the patient’s physiological status plays a very important role, he says less than half of their mortality rate can be attributed to the patient factors they identified, emphasizing the impact of the hospital factors. 

“Ultimately, our hope is that by identifying the drivers of mortality variation, we can discover new ways to reduce it and improve outcomes for critically ill patients with COVID-19,” Churpek said. 

See the release: 

— The Department of Safety and Professional Services says it will be digitizing occupational credential applications for a number of health care professions including registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists, dentists and more. 

The effort to move these applications from a paper format to online is being undertaken through a partnership with MTX Group, a Texas-based tech consulting firm that has previously worked with DSPS to automate data entry and document management tasks. 

According to a release from the agency, the applications being affected through this effort make up more than half of its total licensing volume. By automating aspects of the process, DSPS says the move will help reduce mistakes and improve efficiency while giving staff more time to work on things like evaluating applications and working with customers. 

DSPS says it will launch an online portal for these health care credentials to enable people to apply and make payments online. It will also support agency efforts to track and analyze related data, the release shows. Ultimately, the agency plans to move the application process for all 240 occupational licenses online. 

“This strategy will position our staff to be more effective, and that will enable us to deliver better service to all the people seeking to obtain or renew a license in Wisconsin,” said DSPS Secretary Dawn Crim.

See the release: 

— The latest federal figures released by the state Department of Workforce Development show Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in October, 0.2 percent lower than the revised September rate of 3.4 percent.

Last month’s preliminary unemployment rate for September was 3.9 percent, but that number has been revised downward to reflect a “data distortion” in numbers provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The distortion, caused by a data adjustment that incorporated outlier data from the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metropolitan statistical area in Michigan, impacted modeling for a number of Midwest states including Wisconsin.

BLS says the revisions to unemployment figures for September and October have resulted in figures that “better reflect” the data from these two months. Revisions for data released earlier this year will take place early next year. DWD warns that data from January through August of this year should not be compared to figures for September through December.

BLS has also substantially revised its estimates for U.S. employment growth for much of 2021, showing a significant underestimation of job growth at the national level. The agency says it underestimated U.S. job growth for the past four months by a cumulative 626,000 jobs.

Wisconsin’s October unemployment rate of 3.2 percent remained below the national rate of 4.6 percent, the DWD release shows.

See the release:

See the explanation from BLS on the distortion:


# Wisconsin releases first school report cards since the pandemic, with several changes

# App-based home health care startup Pivotal Health expanding to Milwaukee after $1.3M raise

# Lucrative construction jobs turn students’ heads at Madison career fair



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– Wisconsin unemployment rate drops to 3.2% in October


– Nine-day gun deer season opens November 20


– Two ex-Rockwell executives charged with defrauding company of nearly $17 million


– Zurn acquires Wade Drains product line


– Milwaukee Youth Arts Center completes expansion


– ‘Healthy Herd, Healthy Hunt’ legislation proposed to fight CWD

– Execs from Kwik Trip, Johnson Bank, others back WMC amicus brief against federal vaccine mandate


– Irgens plans to acquire, redevelop former Boston Store site at Brookfield Square

– Chase Tower in downtown Milwaukee being sold to New York investor that recently acquired 330 Kilbourn office towers


– Oliv Madison downtown development plan gets green light from City Council


– Kohl’s raises expectations for 2021 after strong third quarter, more Sephora shops in works

– Riding financial growth wave, Kohl’s aims higher for months ahead


– Dominant wheelchair basketball teams back in action at UW-Whitewater: ‘They turn out Paralympic athletes like crazy’


– Ranking of highway costs, conditions places Wisconsin 26th nationally 


– Regulators dismiss town’s attempt to block $650M solar farm in Dane County 


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

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