MON AM News: Cocktails-to-go should have come a year ago, Tavern League says; Dairy leaders reflect on COVID-era instability

— The hospitality industry notched a win with Gov. Tony Evers signing a bill allowing restaurants, bars and brewpubs to sell cocktails-to-go after bipartisan passage in the Legislature.

During a event ahead of Friday’s action, Tavern League of Wisconsin President Chris Marsicano, a supper club owner from Delavan, urged Evers to sign the legislation.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Marsicano said. “This should have happened a year ago when we were completely shut down.”

Marsicano was a panelist on Thursday’s virtual luncheon program, “Hospitality industry stirs after year of COVID.” The lunch hour event featured Wisconsin’s eatery and alehouse leaders a year after the economy shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer explained that while restaurants were able to pivot to curbside pickup for food during capacity limits, it didn’t make up for the lost margins from bar sales. She added the lack of craft cocktails also takes away from the consumer experience. 

Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, said for brewpubs, it’s frustrating to be able to send beer home with a customer, but not a cocktail.

Read the full story at 

Watch the event: 

— Wisconsin’s dairy industry experienced both all-time highs and 15-year lows in dairy product prices during 2020.

Farmers? They’re hoping for stability moving forward.

“Last April and May milk prices just collapsed when demand collapsed,” said Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy and Analytics at UW-Madison. “We had the lowest milk prices we had seen since 2006.”

During an alumni association discussion panel late last week, several industry experts talked about the impact COVID-19 had on Wisconsin’s dairy industry over the past year.

“When [COVID-19] first hit and was a developing story the first thing we were worried about was keeping our employees safe and on the job,” said Mitch Breunig, owner of Mystic Valley Dairy in Sauk City. “As the story developed and places started to shut down, our milk market was lost overnight.”

Breunig praised his workers’ ability to adapt to the uncertain times in an industry that normally is a year-round, no-days-off job. The workers at Breunig’s farm were also able to adapt to new COVID-19 regulations easily. 

“Dairy is the ultimate socially distanced job anyways, even if you are in the parlor you are six feet apart and we use a lot of sanitizer already,” Breunig said.

— Cheese prices also plummeted, according to Stephenson. 

But because cheese prices dropped so low, many overseas buyers became interested in Wisconsin-produced cheeses, Stephenson said. This surge in demand led to a record in the price of cheese, he added.

Not all dairy farmers were able to take advantage of the surge in international sales. Because the milk produced on Breunig’s farm is primarily used by restaurants on the East Coast, he had to change his approach early on during the pandemic when they shut down.

“We got a phone call [saying] ‘You need to cut back on your milk production 20 percent; you have seven days to figure it out,’” Breunig said. “It was just a shock to our system, and we ended up dumping milk; it was the first time in my life as a farmer that we had to dump milk. And it was a horrible week.”

Breunig said he was able to relocate some of his 420 dairy cows to farms that didn’t have to cut back on milk production. It took 60 days until he was able to relocate enough dairy cows to meet their new production levels after cutbacks. According to Breunig, from then on they were able to turn things around.

Watch the event: 

— The Department of Health Services and its lab partners have confirmed a third coronavirus variant strain in Wisconsin. 

This variant, referred to as P.1, differs from variants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which have both previously been confirmed in Wisconsin. P.1 was first discovered in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at an airport near Tokyo in early January. 

Researchers have found that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. P.1 also has unique mutations that may affect the ability of antibodies, from previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination, to recognize and fight off the virus.

“Because these new variants of concern may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is important to get vaccinated when you are able,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer. “Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate.”

To date, 78 cases of variant B.1.1.7 and two cases of variant B.1.351 have been confirmed in Wisconsin, in addition to one case of variant P.1.

— As Wisconsin continues vaccinating at a high rate, a panel of vaccine experts critiqued the equity of distribution and predicted vaccine reluctance  ahead. 

Wisconsin has surged from one of the worst vaccination rates in the country to one of the best in the country. UW-Madison experts attribute the gain to the use of mathematical models informing decision-makers where the doses of vaccines should go when they are delivered to the state.

“A major factor in how to improve the efficiency was to build models that looked to allocation, logistics and built real models that showed us how to generate appropriate allocation and distribution across the state,” said WID Data Science Hub Director Michael Ferris, speaking at a recent “Crossroads of Ideas” event, a virtual lecture series presented by The Cap Times, Morgridge Institute for Research, WARF and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

These models have been used over the past 10-15 weeks to get vaccine doses into the right communities at the right times, Ferris said. Models have been designed to promote fairness in how the vaccines are distributed to underserved communities. 

But School of Medicine and Public Health Associate Dean Dr. Jonathan Temte said more needs to be done to ensure the fairness of the vaccine rollout. Temte serves on the vaccine panel of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, which advises the state on how to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine.

“A couple days ago in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [by the CDC] it indicated that the vaccine, since it started flowing, has flown inequitably toward higher socioeconomic groups,” Temte said. “So we are maintaining this disparity despite all our efforts to try and circumvent that.”

Infectious disease Prof. Dr. Nasia Safdar said it’s important that Wisconsin get as many doses into arms as it can and that people don’t lie about their health to get to the front of the line. Safdar said people need to let the most vulnerable populations get their dose first. 

“I think we wouldn’t have to make these decisions if supply was adequate,” she said. “Trying to undercut that supply by calling and making an appointment when you are not in the group that is the highest risk for complications doesn’t seem like the best citizen-type thing to do.”

— The more vaccines that are administered to people, the closer Wisconsin gets to herd immunity — when about 80 percent of the population is fully protected against the disease, Temte said. 

When asked at what point the state would reach herd immunity he predicted mid-summer but added that may be too soon.

Kids under age 16 are not able to receive the available COVID-19 vaccines. According to Applied Population Laboratory scientist Malia Jones, children account for 20 percent of the state’s population. And nearly a quarter of Wisconsinites don’t want the vaccine, she said. 

Jones warned if this hesitancy and lack of a children’s vaccine holds up, herd immunity and a return to normal will only be delayed.

— The past week, Wisconsin set its seventh consecutive record for COVID-19 shots administered in one week — nearly 340,000 shots. 

The state has put more than 2.7 million shots in people’s arms. Nearly 1.7 million people have gotten at least one dose of either the single-dose Johnson & Johnson or the two-dose series of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Over 29 percent of Wisconsinites have at least started their COVID-19 vaccine series and more than 17 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the DHS’ vaccine dashboard.

More than 56 percent of the adults 65 and older in Wisconsin are fully vaccinated, and nearly 75 percent have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

— Menominee and Kewaunee counties remain “low” for COVID-19 disease activity, according to DHS’ latest update.

Only Menominee County has been consistent in keeping low COVID-19 activity for over a month. Kewaunee County has kept a low case burden for the past month. Jackson County also reports low activity for the past 14 days, meaning it’s reported fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents. 

Sixteen counties fell below 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks and rank in the “medium” tier for COVID-19 case activity — the same as last week.

The rest of Wisconsin’s 72 counties meet the criteria for a “high” case burden, which is greater than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. It’s the middle tier of disease activity in the state. 

Six counties faced a growing trajectory of cases in the last two weeks, down from seven last week: Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Rock, Washington and Waupaca. Each is in the southeastern part of the state.

— Wisconsin reported 428 new COVID-19 cases coming into today and no new deaths from the virus.

The state reports 6,683 active cases, 575,748 cases since the start of the pandemic and 6,598 total deaths.

The seven-day average for daily confirmed cases is 473, just one more than Saturday’s average. The seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths is three deaths per day, the same as Saturday — a figure last seen in July. 

See the Wisconsin COVID-19 Timeline: 

— The Department of Natural Resources is requesting comments on a proposed Green Tier contract with De Pere-based manufacturer The C.A. Lawton Co.

Lawton, which manufactures iron castings and machine parts, has been a Tier 1 participant in the DNR’s program since 2013. The proposed contract would advance the company to Tier 2. 

Tier 2 participants agree to meet rigorous eligibility requirements enabling environmental improvements allowing for some regulatory flexibility. This contract will allow Lawton to obtain coverage under the Green Tier registration operation permit. The permit requires that the facility maintain air emission levels below 80 percent of the major source thresholds.

“This is another tangible step in our decade-plus long Beyond Compliance program,” said Lawton CEO Alex Lawton. “Partnering with the State of Wisconsin on this progressive and thoughtful program is fantastic. It’s a very intentional way for good actors like our company to be both recognized and rewarded and for the state to gain both environmental improvement and efficiency in its operations. A true win-win situation.” 

Submit a comment and learn more about the Green Tier program: 


# Far fewer Wisconsin hemp licenses have been issued, so far 

# Milwaukee Brewers hope to expand stadium capacity by May, resume tailgating this season



– Milwaukee Brewers sponsors stayed with team through pandemic, office staff returns 


– Former Dean Foods plants sold 

– Heritage Meats Issues Product Recall 


– Wisconsin GDP dipped 4.5% in 2020 


– Jeffers creating educational ecosystem at Journal Square project


– Nilsestuen legacy event addresses climate change impact and adaptation in rural communities 


– ThriveHealth founder saw tech need for health systems 


– Northwestern Mutual backs COVID-19 vaccination sites in two Milwaukee neighborhoods 


– La Crosse Schools Suspend Partnership With Police After Officer Union Targets Citizen On Social Media 


– California developer buys land in Kenosha industrial park 


– More Than 100 Wisconsin High Schools Are Playing Football This Spring 


– City of Stoughton IT system ‘compromised’ 


– Milwaukee Rep drives audience assurance with a variety of safety measures 


– United Airlines adds nonstop flights from Milwaukee to five new destinations 


– Physicians group challenges license extension for Point Beach nuclear plant 


– InsideWis: Keeping talent, young companies in Wisconsin can require homegrown capital 


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

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– UScellular: Names Christine Paulsen director of retail sales and operations for Wisconsin