MON AM News: Mink farmers, elderly, first responders, teachers, prison workers among those potentially next in line for COVID-19 shots

— Mink husbandry workers will likely be included in the second vaccination phase, accounting for about 300 people, according to the vaccine subpanel of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee.

The 17-member panel debated the lineup late last week. The committee advises the state’s health agency regarding medical ethics during a declared disaster or public health emergency, taking into consideration guidelines from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The state panel decided to add mink husbandry to the list over concerns that there could be human-to-mink and then mink-to-human transmission of the virus, said committee co-chair Dr. Jonathan Temte of the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

The ferret-like mammals have raised alarm around the world after serving as transmission vectors for COVID-19 and passing mutated versions back to people. The Badger State is ranked first in the nation for producing mink pelts. 

Mink have a protein receptor in their lungs that may make them more vulnerable to the virus, explained Kevin Hoffman, public information officer at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

He told that two Wisconsin farms have had COVID-19 outbreaks in mink. Both of these are located in Taylor County. 

“Nearly 5,500 mink died naturally at the two farms after being infected,” he said.

Denmark had culled nearly 17 million mink due to the virus in November. The “Cluster 5” strain that was identified in Denmark has not been detected in Wisconsin, Hoffman said. 

“We are working with the CDC and other agencies to monitor the affected farms,” he said. “Both farms remain under quarantine and there is ongoing testing.”

— People ages 70 and older, first responders, teachers, corrections workers, and those living and working in congregate facilities, including incarcerated people, may also be the second group in Wisconsin to get the coronavirus shot.

This tallies up to about 850,000 people. 

Federal guidelines recommend the second phase of vaccinations include people older than 75, first responders, teachers and corrections workers. 

The state panel decided to expand the age group to those older than 70 because Wisconsin is an “old state,” Temte said. He added that the expanded age range would include more people with co-morbidities, covering roughly 550,000 people.

The committee debated the inclusion of those in congregate living facilities and the inclusion of incarcerated people in that group, which together total about 100,000 people. 

“In a correction population, where we’ve had probably 12,000 positive cases … I don’t see how we move forward and not address this population,” Department of Corrections Chief Nursing Officer Mary Muse said. “We cannot ignore this population and we cannot push them back. Even if our correction workers are being vaccinated, that still does not address people who cannot decide on themselves or go to a clinic somewhere else in the community.”

Temte said it’s not ethically defensible to exclude incarcerated people from congregate living, because by definition, it is congregate living and high-risk for coronavirus spread. 

While the majority of the panelists on the call voted to approve the above recommendations for the second phase, three members on the call did not support the motion. The reasons were for either including too many groups or not including enough.

Read the full story at 

— The Department of Health Services has the final say in how the committee’s recommendations are implemented. 

As of Friday, DHS reports it has administered 123,402 doses of the 266,675 doses the federal government has shipped to the state. 

The panel expects to have its report out tomorrow. The team will meet tomorrow morning to discuss whether secondary education instructors should be included and vote on a final recommendation.

— President-elect Joe Biden has announced plans to release nearly all available coronavirus vaccines after he takes office. 

The news comes after a coalition of eight Dem governors, including Gov. Tony Evers, urged the federal Department of Health and Human Services to distribute a store of COVID-19 vaccine reportedly held in reserve.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Chief Operating Officer General Gustave Perna, the guvs cited a Washington Post story detailing the Trump administration “currently has upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back.”

“The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable,” the letter says. “We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately.”

The current administration is holding half the vaccine in reserve to ensure people receive their second dose of the two-part shot. Biden’s move would expand the number of Americans who could soon get their first shot, but it risks depleting reserves needed for the second shot.

DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt told Wisconsin needs more vaccines. 

“We welcome the federal government sending more to us,” she said. “We remain committed to completing the authorized two dose series for everyone in our state.”

— Thirty-eight people died from COVID-19 this weekend, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,157.

Of Wisconsin’s total fatalities, families have mourned the losses of eight health care workers.

Goodsitt said the number could be an underrepresentation as contact tracers were using shortened questionnaires as case burden increased for local health departments in the fall. 

Health care workers account for 3 percent of total COVID-19 cases in the state. Preliminary data from DHS show three health care workers began experiencing symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 the week of Dec. 27. That figure is down from 20 health care workers the week prior and 229 health care workers on Nov. 22. 

Health officials have said that health care workers have become exposed to the virus outside of work while in their communities. But Goodsitt said the state health agency cannot tell that definitively.

— Wisconsin also reports a cumulative 506,890 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. 

The seven-day average for daily confirmed cases fell to 2,908 from 2,996 Saturday. The all-time high for the seven-day average was 6,563, reached on Nov. 18. 

The seven-day average for people who tested positive for COVID-19 out of the total people tested is 30 percent compared to 30.5 percent Friday. The record high is 37.7 percent reached Nov. 11. The seven-day average for positive tests per total tests collected is 10.3 compared to 10.5 percent Friday. Its record was 17.9 percent on Nov. 12. 

See more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— BioForward Wisconsin is hosting a virtual panel on Thursday at noon featuring member companies outlining their pandemic response from COVID-19 testing to vaccine manufacturing.

BioForward is the organization serving as the collective voice of Wisconsin’s robust and comprehensive biohealth cluster representing more than 220 member organizations.

CEO Lisa Johnson told the featured businesses and organizations will continue to influence the pandemic response by the products and services they are providing. 

“We will need research into this virus for many years, learning more about it and how to be better prepared for future pandemics. We will continue to need therapeutics to treat individuals until this virus has been eliminated,” she said. “They will learn a lot about these therapies to utilize in future virus outbreaks.”

Panelists who will be presenting during next Thursday’s virtual event include:

*Cecilia Hillard, associate dean for research at Medical College of Wisconsin; 

*Tom Foti, president of the Protein Business Unit at Aldevron; 

*Graham Brearley, general manager at Catalent; 

*James Hoyes, board member and strategic advisor at Endece; 

*Scott Larrivee, associate director of corporate affairs at Exact Sciences: 

*Randy Nagy, president and CEO of Gentueri;

*Melissa Martowicz, product manager at Gilson;

*Jen Romanin, senior director of IVD Operations at Promega;

*and Brad Pietz, executive vice president and chief laboratory officer at Versiti.

“There are many more Wisconsin companies and research institutions that we are proud of that have been critical in the global fight to this pandemic but we were trying to … have some companies that many people may not know much about have an opportunity to present to a broader audience, i.e. Endece, Gentueri, Aldevron.”

She teased an event scheduled later this month focused on COVID-19 vaccines featuring the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the world’s largest biotech trade association. It will look back on the past month of vaccinations and discuss what the future holds for vaccinations in 2021.

When does BioForward Wisconsin predict these events to be held in-person? 

“Well, there is the million-dollar question,” Johnson said. “If we can get 70-80 percent of the population vaccinated, then we will start to eliminate this virus and can get back to normal which includes in-person meetings. We do not think it is prudent to potentially jeopardize people’s lives by holding in-person meetings until our scientific experts determine it is safe for mass gatherings.”

Unless several more vaccines are approved and enough people get vaccinated, Johnson said she assumes the current state of virtual events will continue through most of this year. 

Until then, she advocates for vaccine safety and effectiveness education and efforts to combat misinformation. 

Register for Thursday’s event here: 

Listen to a recent podcast with Johnson: 

— The Wisconsin Farm Center is launching a series of virtual support groups to help Wisconsin farmers access mental health resources. 

The free support groups for farmers and their spouses are scheduled to begin in February.

“These groups are designed to bring farmers and farm couples together so they can share ideas, provide encouragement, and support each other through challenging times,” said Jayne Krull, director of the Ag Resource and Promotion Bureau at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which houses the Wisconsin Farm Center.

Support groups will be offered at 8 p.m. the fourth Monday of every month, at 1 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month and at 8 p.m. the third Thursday of every month. 

The virtual sessions, which are led by farmers who have experienced stress while operating their own farm, will be 60-90 minutes via Zoom. The virtual support group welcomes participants from anywhere in Wisconsin. 

A licensed mental health provider will be on-hand at each session. People must register in advance. 

Learn more or register for a session: 

— The Wisconsin Technology Council is encouraging military veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs to enter the 18th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

The contest is accepting entries online for the 2021 competition through 5 p.m. Jan. 31. 

A dozen veterans have made it to the finalist rounds of the Governor’s Business Plan Contest in recent years, including a category winner in the 2016 competition. Nick Mastronardi, a former Air Force officer, won the Information Technology category with POLCO, a civic engagement platform in widespread use across the United States today.

Enter the contest: 

A free webinar on how to prepare to enter the contest will be held Jan. 20. Register: 

Listen to the latest “WisBusiness: The Podcast” episode with the Tech Council’s Laura Kaiser to learn more about the contest: 

— Nearly 55,000 Wisconsin small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic received about $240 million last year through the “We’re All In” grants program.

The program was the largest direct-aid program for small businesses in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s history, according to a release from Gov. Tony Evers.

“Wisconsin’s small businesses have exemplified remarkable resilience throughout this pandemic, finding new, innovative ways to keep the doors open and the lights on. But it wasn’t easy, and I am glad we were able to provide this critically needed support,” Evers said. “We aren’t out of the woods just yet, and it is vital that we continue to support our local businesses and their employees to help them get through these tough times.”

Funded by the federal CARES Act, the grants were awarded to Wisconsin small businesses in three phases throughout the first year of the pandemic. 

This summer, the first phase distributed $65 million to more than 26,000 businesses around the state. Each received a $2,500 grant from WEDC. In the fall, the second phase targeted $130 million to more than 26,000 businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. Each received $5,000 awards. Both of these phases were aimed at businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenue.

In the late fall, the third phase was specifically targeted at food, beverage and amusement businesses with annual revenues between $1 million and $7 million. Each qualified business received $20,000. More than 2,000 businesses received these grants.

“The intent for all of the We’re All In grants was to get help to as many small businesses as we could, as quickly as we could,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. 

WEDC worked with the Department of Revenue to identify businesses that were struggling the most.

“We have seen economic impacts from COVID-19 that are very uneven,” said DOR Secretary Peter Barca. “Some businesses are suffering a great deal while others have seen less impact.”

See the “We’re All In” recipients at a searchable online database: 

See the online interactive data visualization map of the state highlighting where businesses are located, and what industries received the grants:!/vizhome/WereAllInGrants/Story1 

— Hughes will be the featured guest at a virtual event set for noon tomorrow presented by a partnership between the Milwaukee Press Club and

Hughes will take questions from a panel of journalists and from the audience during the one-hour program, to be moderated by Milwaukee Press Club President Corrinne Hess, reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.

The panel includes Stephanie Hoff,; Ricardo Torres, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; and Nick Williams, Milwaukee Business Journal. 

Register in advance to participate in this free webinar: 

Those who register will receive a link to the webinar on the morning of the event. The event will also be live-streamed on the Milwaukee Press Club’s YouTube channel: 


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