FRI AM News: “WisBusiness: the Podcast” with Richelle Martin, managing director of the Winnow Fund; Latest DHS numbers highlight vaccine impact, rising breakthrough cases

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Richelle Martin, managing director of the Winnow Fund. 

Martin discusses some of the investing challenges posed by the pandemic, as well as the fund’s first investment in a Madison-based business called KaPloint. The company has a system for casinos to attract and retain customers, relying on customer data casinos collect to boost engagement. 

“This one presented a great opportunity,” she said. “KaPloint came to us with an experienced team, their CEO had a previous exit under his belt already, had very in-depth knowledge of the industry they’re operating in, and had good connections in the industry as well.” 

Although the startup boasted an experienced leadership team, it was still in its early stages when the founders connected with the Madison-based Winnow Fund. 

“These are the types of companies that we get really excited about, where we can have a significant early impact and get them to reach some of those first milestones, that really help companies grow to the level of interest of other investors,” she said. 

She also gives an overview of the fund’s investment strategy going forward. 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts: 

— New numbers released by the state Department of Health Services illustrate how COVID-19 vaccines provide protection against infection, hospitalization and death. But they also show that breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people have increased between February and July of this year. 

The data for July 2021 show 125.4 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated people, compared to 369.2 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated people. Hospitalizations were also much lower for those who are vaccinated, at 4.9 per 100,000, compared to 18.2 per 100,000 for the unvaccinated. 

The greatest difference is shown in death rates, with more than 10 times as many deaths for unvaccinated people in July — 0.1 per 100,000 fully vaccinated people, versus 1.1 per 100,000 unvaccinated. 

The DHS dashboard also shows breakthrough COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people increasing from 56.6 per 100,000 in February to 125.4 per 100,000 in July. Over the same period, cases among the unvaccinated remained at a much higher level but didn’t see a similar increase. 

In a call with reporters, state health officials noted that breakthrough cases are expected and emphasized the benefits of getting vaccinated. They attributed the increase in breakthrough cases to the more infectious nature of the delta variant.

“It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 burden comes from those who are not fully vaccinated,” said Traci DeSalvo, director of the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases. “The data show clearly that COVID-19 vaccines are doing their job by preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.” 

The surge in new cases continues in Wisconsin, as yesterday’s seven-day average reached 1,223 cases per day — nearly seven times higher than the rate from one month ago. Along with new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are also on the rise. 

Meanwhile, vaccinations in the state continue to increase slowly. As of yesterday, 53.6 percent of the state’s population had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 50.4 percent had completed the vaccine series. On the national level, 60.2 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose and 51.1 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, says a higher percentage of the state will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity than originally thought, due to the delta variant. State health officials had previously said they were shooting for getting at least 80 percent of the state’s population vaccinated. 

“The more infectious the pathogen, the higher that threshold needs to be,” Westergaard said. “So essentially, everything that we need to do to minimize the spread of the virus, we need to do better and more of when we have a more infectious variant — and that’s what we’re seeing with delta.” 

Watch a video of the briefing: 

See the new DHS numbers: 

— Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin has announced all employees must receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1 unless they obtain an exemption for religious or medical reasons.

The nonprofit health plan said 92 percent of its 800 employees are already vaccinated. It is the latest health care provider to put such a requirement in place for employees. SSM Health, for example, is requiring vaccination for its 40,000 employees, providers and volunteers by the end of September.

The cooperative has more than 75,000 members in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.

See the release:

— The state Group Insurance Board has approved an aggregate premium increase of 3.4 percent for state and local health insurance programs in 2022. 

The State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance Program provides group health coverage to employees of state agencies, the UW System, local government employers and others. 

A release from the state Department of Employee Trust Funds shows the overall state premium increase for 2022 plans is 3 percent, while the overall local premium increase for plan year 2022 is 5.8 percent. ETF notes the aggregate increase is below the national trend for the third year in a row. 

“This modest increase is the result of productive rate negotiations between the Department of Employee Trust Funds and participating health plans,” said Eileen Mallow, director of ETF’s Office of Strategic Health Policy. 

See more details in a release: 

— Attorney General Josh Kaul says he plans to sign off on a multi-state, $26 billion settlement with three of the nation’s major pharmaceutical distributors and Janssen, which manufactured and marketed opioids.

States face a deadline at week’s end to indicate if they plan to join the agreement, which could mean $400 million for Wisconsin.

The proposed agreement, announced last month, would resolve the claims of states and local governments that have filed nearly 4,000 lawsuits in federal and state courts.

Local governments have another 120 days to indicate if they plan to back the proposed settlement.

“Moving forward with this agreement will bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Wisconsin communities, significantly enhancing communities’ ability to take action to fight the opioid epidemic and making our communities safer,” Kaul said.

See the release: 

— The state’s unemployment rate in July remained at 3.9 percent, marking the fourth month in a row the rate hasn’t changed.

That’s according to the latest federal figures released by the state Department of Workforce Development. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains below the national rate of 5.4 percent.

The DWD release shows 12,400 private-sector jobs were added over the month, driven by gains in wholesale trade, educational services, and leisure and hospitality. Most industries are seeing substantial recovery over job numbers from July 2020.

See the release:

— The USDA has announced two companies in southeastern Wisconsin are getting a total of $182,000 in grants to boost capacity for ethanol sales. 

The grant funding is part of a $26 million package going to businesses in 23 states, aimed at expanding availability of “higher-blend renewable biofuels” by more than 822 million gallons. Grants are coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program. 

Pamperin Rentals III LLC in East Troy is getting a $100,000 grant to replace five fuel dispensers and install an underground fueling tank at a fueling station. A fact sheet from USDA shows this project is projected to increase the amount of ethanol sold by nearly 1.2 million gallons per year. 

And O-Line 50 Inc. is getting a $82,000 grant to install six dispensers and a storage tank at a fueling station in Kenosha, which is expected to increase ethanol sales by 840,000 gallons per year. 

See the full list of funded projects here: 

— Brady Corporation’s Glendale facility has joined the DNR’s Green Tier program, which recognizes businesses for commitments to environmental sustainability. 

The manufacturing company is joining the program at the “Tier 1” level by implementing an environmental management system. According to a release, the facility plans to reduce wastewater, air emissions, hazardous waste and energy usage. 

“We’re excited to grow our partnership with them as they focus on improving the environmental impacts at their Florist Avenue facility and to amplify the corporation’s global environmental accomplishments,” said Greg Pils, the director of environmental analysis and sustainability for the Department of Natural Resources.

See more on the program: 


# Wisconsin’s COVID-19 breakthrough cases more than double

# Wisconsin providers preparing for Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccine booster shots

# Settlement sends $650,000 to workers at shuttered plant



– State cranberry output likely to be larger than 2020


– Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on biggest project ever in Wisconsin


– Many Wisconsin school boards, overwhelmed by 18 months of community pushback, aren’t taking up mask issue

– UW-Madison will require weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated students, employees


– Fish consumption advisory issued for Petenwell Flowage after yellow perch, crappies test positive for high levels of ‘forever chemicals’


– Farm support program 2.0 to distribute $50 million to producers


– Indoor mask mandate goes into effect in Dane County


– Wisconsin unemployment rate unchanged for fourth month


– Exact Sciences, Epic implement vaccine mandates at Madison-area offices


– Illinois steel pipe roller moving plant and headquarters to Walworth County

– Milwaukee Tool prepares rollout of self-propelled lawn mower for 2022


– Wisconsin redistricting case will be heard by panel that includes two judges nominated by Obama, one by Trump

– US Rep. Pocan discusses Taliban takeover of Afghanistan


– Kohl’s continues to rebound from pandemic with sales up 30% in the second quarter of 2021


– Milwaukee Bucks’ Pat Connaughton proposes 50 apartments in Brewer’s Hill


– How Madison and Milwaukee rank on list of best Midwest cities for startups


– Scenes from return of Milwaukee Night Market to downtown

– Wisconsin State Fair reports over 841,000 in attendance at 2021 fair


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

Oak Hill Business Partners: Erik Owen serves third year on UW-Milwaukee board of visitors

Dept. of Health Services: Releases new data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccination status