MON AM News: Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce responds to mask mandate extension; Talking Trade with Will Hsu of Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises

— After Dane County’s health department has moved to again extend its mask mandate with a new exception, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is raising critical questions.

The extension, announced last week, came after officials at Public Health Madison & Dane County had previously said they had no plans to extend the order. People in the county are now allowed to remove their masks indoors if everyone there is fully vaccinated, unlike under previous orders. 

In the order, Public Health Madison & Dane County Health Officer Janel Heinrich notes the county has seen a significant increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 over the past month. The mandate has been extended to Jan. 3. 

“We had hoped to not issue any more face covering orders but in the last three weeks, our rate of disease in the community has nearly doubled, the rate among children is at an all-time high and in other parts of the state, cases are even higher,” she said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is questioning the health agency’s “arbitrary decisions and timelines” related to the mask mandates.

“We appreciate that Public Health is finally acknowledging that businesses are not – and have not been – a source of significant COVID spread and are incorporating the business community’s feedback in creating this single, common-sense exemption,” the chamber wrote in an email. 

But the chamber argues that it’s “unclear what data is being used” by the health department in making decisions related to the mask order and is asking for more clarity about “what targets need to be met” for the order to end. Chamber officials say they will “advocate to local officials for maintaining an equilibrium among health, the economy and public confidence that is vital to our full recovery.” 

See the order: 

— The latest “Talking Trade” video podcast features a conversation with Will Hsu, president of Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises. 

Former President Trump’s trade war with China and COVID-19 were doubly harsh on Wisconsin’s ginseng trade, as Talking Trade hosts Ian Coxhead and Sandi Siegel learn from Hsu.

“A lot of the farmers in the last two or three years have decided to leave the industry. So we’re hearing more and more farmers just choosing with these low prices to no longer plant,” Hsu said. “Once you stop planting, that means two or three years down the road, you won’t have a crop to harvest. And so those types of longer-term lasting effects, some of them we still haven’t seen yet.” 

Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises, based in Marathon County, has the largest ginseng farm in the United States. Wisconsin ginseng makes up 95 percent of the country’s production, and state exports make up about 50 percent of U.S. ginseng exports overall. 

Watch the episode here: 

See the full archive: 

— Gov. Tony Evers is losing a member of his cabinet for the second time this month with Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable retiring from public service.

Afable, appointed by Evers  to the post in December 2018, is leaving the job next month, the guv announced last week. Prior to joining the Evers administration, Afable had spent 14 years working for American Family Insurance, including a stint as chief legal officer. 

His departure comes on the heels of WHEDA CEO Joaquin Altoro joining the Biden administration as administrator for the Rural Housing Services within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Mark has been a part of our administration from the very beginning, and his dedication to expanding health insurance access, protecting a competitive insurance marketplace, and building insurance awareness has made a huge difference in our state,” Evers said.

Deputy Commissioner Nathan Houdek will serve as interim commissioner following Afable’s departure. Houdek was a lobbyist at Michael Best Strategies before he joined Evers’ transition team in November 2018. He was then appointed deputy commissioner in January 2019.

Houdek was a legislative aide between 2006 and 2016, including serving as chief of staff for then-Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-Madison. During that time, he left the Capitol for a stint lobbying with the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans.

See more details in the release: 

— Through a partnership with the NFL, researchers will be collecting data from football players at UW-Madison to better understand the forces involved with on-field head injuries. 

Using mouthguard sensors that players can opt to wear, scientists with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health will be collecting information on factors like speed, force, direction and location of head impacts. The broad research effort, also being undertaken at other universities, aims to support the National Football League’s efforts to reduce head injuries among its players. 

“The more we learn about sport-related concussions, the better we can protect our student-athletes from these injuries and maintain a desirable balance between the benefits of sport participation and the risk of injury,” said Daniel Cobian, assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the UW SMPH and co-principal investigator for the study. 

Prior research has found that brain damage caused by repeated trauma — known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy — is common among NFL players. The NFL has been spending millions of dollars to support research efforts focused on improving diagnosis, prevention and treatment of these sorts of injuries. 

An independent council of engineers and consultants to the NFL Players Association will analyze the data collected from players at UW-Madison and other participating universities, including the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Washington. 

A release shows the UW-Madison researchers will also receive statistical analysis through the partnership to support the university’s player health and safety efforts. 

See more: 

— UW Stout has wrapped up a $3 million renovation project anchored by the university’s Makers Laboratory, providing students a new space for collaborative hands-on projects. 

The new space is meant to help students studying fashion and retail, engineering and technology, according to a release. Glendali Rodriguez, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, notes that UW-Stout has three times as many laboratories as classrooms. 

“The renovation of this key space is just one example of our strategic approach to creating environments that foster hands-on, cross-disciplinary learning,” she said. “We are excited about the flexibility it affords and appreciative for the state’s support in alignment with our mission as a polytechnic university.” 

The renovation project also included a new computer-aided design, a remodeled conference room, and a new materials testing lab for fashion and retail in the university’s Communication Technologies Building. 

The State Building Commission approved funding for the project in October 2020, the release shows. 

See the release: 


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# Survey: Wisconsin farmland worth 10% more than in 2020



– WFU Foundation seeks board nominations


– Building Blocks: Reconstruction of Oakes Road in Racine County 


– UW-Green Bay mentorship program assists early-career students of color

– UW-Madison Dairy Science virtual preview day planned


– Great Lakes’ warming has wintertime domino effect

– DNR: Gun deer season off to slow start


– At Clyde’s Pies, a pandemic bread baker turns Madison pizza maker


– ‘This year it’s completely different’: Nursing homes ease up on visitation rules ahead of holidays

– Parents recount terror of wrongful child abuse diagnoses from former University of Wisconsin doctor


– Punch Bowl Social reopening remains unclear as litigation continues


– Generac will require Covid-19 testing if federal mandate takes effect: CEO Jagdfeld


– Bill would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin to a year after birth


– Mouthguard sensors help provide research on player safety


– Madison West students tackle climate change with simulator activity


– WisDOT expects to pick I-94 East-West design next year, start construction in 2025 


– The bottom of State Street in Madison is still ripe for a pedestrian mall


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

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Dept. of Natural Resources: Awards Brownfields Grant to city of Beaver Dam

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture NASS Upper Midwest: Wisconsin agriculture labor statistics