THU AM News: Demographic trends, vaccine resistance and lack of care access driving COVID-19 disparities; UW School of Medicine and Public Health recruiting for COVID-19 vaccine allergy study

— Higher COVID-19 death rates in rural Wisconsin counties illustrate how demographic trends, vaccine resistance and disparities in health care access are contributing to the pandemic’s impact in the state. 

An analysis of COVID-19 deaths in all 72 counties found that rural areas tend to have higher rates than urban ones, in line with national trends outlined in other studies. Dr. Ajay Sethi is an associate professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison who created the spreadsheet breaking down these numbers. 

In a recent interview, he explained his review of the numbers was a simple statistical comparison of death rates without age adjustment. He said what he found “points to the urgency” of addressing public health challenges where the impact is greatest. 

“It’s important to recognize that people who are unvaccinated are experiencing the greatest rates of hospitalization and death,” he told 

Of the counties with the five highest death rates by population size between Jan. 1, 2020 and Sept. 27, 2021, just one has a higher vaccination rate than the state average. According to the table created by Sethi, one in 146 people in Iron County had died from COVID-19 during that time. And 57.5 percent of county residents have completed the vaccine series, compared to 54.8 percent for the state’s overall population. 

Lincoln County, in which one in 268 people had died from the virus, has a fully vaccinated rate of 49 percent. Waupaca County, where one in 291 residents had died from COVID-19, has a vaccination rate of 48.2 percent. Forest County, where one in 296 had died, has a vaccination rate of 45.6 percent. And Florence County, with a death rate of one in 351, has a vaccination rate of 46 percent.

Although vaccination rates tend to be lower in rural counties than urban ones, it’s not the only indicator for high death rates. Three rural counties with vaccination rates between 31 and 37 percent — Clark, Taylor and Rusk — had lower rates of COVID-19 deaths by population size than the counties listed above. 

Other important factors include an older rural population, more comorbidities contributing to significant disease, and a lack of health care access. Tammy Simon, vice president of quality, innovation and patient safety for Marshfield Clinic Health System, points to a “huge deficit” of transportation and connectivity options in the largely rural area the system serves. 

See the full story: 

— An upcoming clinical study in Madison will explore if mRNA COVID-19 vaccines could cause allergic reactions in people who are considered “highly allergic.” 

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health is recruiting participants aged 12 and older for the study. They are seeking those who’ve either had a severe allergic reaction in the past 15 years, are allergic to a medication or have a mast cell disorder, which can lead to repeated anaphylactic episodes. 

Such reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are “quite rare” according to a release from UW Health, which cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing anaphylaxis has occurred in between two and five people per million vaccinated. The multicenter study will focus on the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. 

Dr. Mark Moss, principal investigator on the study and a professor of medicine with the UW SMPH, says most of these uncommon reactions have occurred in people who have a history of allergies. 

“It’s critically important for us to better understand who is having negative reactions to the vaccines and why so that we can better advise those individuals who are highly allergic, or who have a mast cell disorder, about the risks and benefits of receiving these two vaccines,” Moss said in the release. 

Participants in the study will get two separate vaccine doses about three weeks apart, though a third will get a placebo before they receive the first vaccine dose. Because those that receive the placebo saltwater injection will still be vaccinated, they will require three visits rather than two. 

After each dose, medical staff will be monitoring participants for 90 minutes to see if an allergic reaction occurs. Participants will be tracking any symptoms through a study website or a paper form for the following week, and those running the study will also check in by phone. 

A spokesperson for UW Health says the Madison site is hoping to enroll 30 people, but says that number could increase. It’s one of 29 study locations, all of which are actively recruiting participants. The Systemic Allergic Reactions to SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination study is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

Get more details on the study here: 

— A medical equipment provider called RehabPulse has closed on a $4.5 million funding round as it looks to expand its distribution model. 

The Madison-based company also announced it’s begun offering integrated online insurance claims processing through its online marketplace. It provides “durable medical equipment” such as wheelchairs, scooters, respiratory devices, medical braces, slings and more. 

The investment funds will be used to hire more staff, continue development on its insurance claims processing service, and “continue to innovate the artificial intelligence” and other technology used in its platform, a release shows. Investors in the round include Wisconsin Investment and Strategic Capital Partners as well as Dr. Juliet Breeze, a health care entrepreneur and executive based in Texas. 

“RehabPulse has the opportunity to revolutionize an area of healthcare that is cumbersome and antiquated,” Breeze said in a statement. “An update to the process of prescribing and obtaining durable medical equipment for patients in a cost-effective and convenient manner is long overdue.”

See the release: 

— The majority of businesses included in the latest Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce survey aren’t requiring their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Eighty-six percent of the 71 companies responding to the survey said they don’t have a vaccine mandate, while 13 percent said they do. 

Businesses in the Milwaukee area are largely optimistic about future economic growth, the survey shows. But the outlook has dimmed slightly compared to the previous survey. Bret Mayborne, the economic research director for the MMAC, says that drop is “likely due to the year-over-year nature” of questions posed to respondents. 

“Results for this edition of our survey are no longer relative to the extreme effects of the initial pandemic downturn, as they would have been in our surveys earlier this year,” Mayborne said. “Positive expectations have normalized and moderated a bit.”

Sixty-seven percent of respondents are projecting increases in fourth-quarter profits, while 19 percent expect profits to decline and 14 percent expect no difference. By comparison, 79 percent said they expected profit increases for the third quarter of this year. 

Meanwhile, 49 percent of surveyed businesses expect to have more jobs in the fourth quarter of 2021 than the previous fourth quarter, while 14 percent expect job levels to be lower. And 37 percent don’t expect their employment levels to change. In the previous survey, 68 percent projected employment growth over the year for the third quarter. 

See more survey results:

— The State Building Commission has approved $124 million in new projects, including several at UW System campuses around the state. 

Some of those projects include upgrading elevators at seven UW-Madison facilities that fail to meet accessibility standards, replacing aging fire doors at UW-Parkside’s Greenquist Hall, and renovations at the UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stout campuses. 

Clow Hall, which houses UW-Oshkosh’s nursing and education programs, will see laboratory and classroom upgrades, a release from Gov. Tony Evers shows. And UW-Stout’s South Hall student residence building will be renovated to improve accessibility. 

See more approved projects: 

— Wisconsin milk production in September was 3 percent higher over the year, according to a recent USDA report. 

The report shows milk production in the state reached 2.6 billion pounds last month, marking a continued trend of higher production so far this year. The average number of milk cows during September increased by 22,000 over the year, reaching 1.28 million. 

And the monthly production level per cow averaged 2,035 pounds, which is 30 pounds higher than September 2020, the report shows. 

See the report: 


# Wisconsin Senate approves longer work hours for teenagers

# Fewer students participated in Wisconsin standardized tests this spring and scores went down

# Coming out of Techstars accelerator, washbnb will seek funding to expand to more U.S. cities



– Former Foremost Farms CEO Don Storhoff passes


– Sandhill crane hunting season draws support at hearing

– Conservation Fund buys 70K acres of private forestland in northern Wisconsin


– Mayfair mall seeking money through lawsuits over vacant Boston Store, property taxes


– A.O. Smith acquires Canadian water heater maker in nearly $200 million deal


– Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association commends JFC passage of Wisconsin ag export bill

– Candidates are lining up to run for Milwaukee mayor, but Barrett’s departure date remains unclear

– GOP abortion bills move forward again despite likely vetoes from Gov. Tony Evers


– R2 Cos. proposal to redevelop downtown USPS facility is off after firm sells property

– With sale to investor, Chicago developer scraps plans to redevelop downtown Milwaukee post office complex


– Sand Valley resurrecting The Lido Golf Club in Wisconsin

– Bucks get championship rings, beat Nets in season opener: ‘It is insane’


– See surprise drone show light up downtown Milwaukee skies


– Black named interim director of Wisconsin State Fair Park


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

Guardian Software Systems: Announces partnership with R2 Quality Castings LLC

Network Health, ThedaCare: Announce agreement to provide additional access to health care for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries

Alzheimer’s Association: Diane Beckley Milner selected to lead Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives at Wisconsin Chapter