MON AM News: MCW testing treatment for hearing loss; Fewer counties seeing high levels of COVID activity

— Scientists at the Medical College of Wisconsin are testing a new therapy aimed at reversing the most common form of hearing loss. 

The therapy being tested is meant for patients with sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL, which accounts for 90 percent of all hearing loss. The condition results from chronic noise exposure, aging, some viral infections and other causes. 

Dr. Michael Harris, principal investigator and assistant professor at MCW, says no treatments are currently approved for this condition. 

“This trial focuses on addressing the underlying biological causes of SNHL,” Harris said in a release from the college. “Loss of hair cells in the inner ear is a cause of hearing loss, and once we lose those cells, they do not grow back on their own. This trial therapy aims to produce new cochlear hair cells.” 

The approach involves injecting the drug through the ear drum into the middle ear. It then moves into the inner ear, where it causes new growth in the hair cells. This addresses the main biological cause of hearing loss as an alternative to amplifying sounds through devices such as hearing aids. 

MCW Profs. Christina Runge and Dr. David Friedland are on the clinical advisory board for Frequency Therapeutics, which is sponsoring the Phase 2b clinical trial. MCW and about 30 other sites around the country are participating. 

Results from a Phase 1 clinical trial for the therapy were published last year in the journal Otology and Neurotology. 

Runge says the earlier trial determined the treatment — called FX-322 — had a “favorable safety profile” and improved hearing ability in patients. The earlier phase showed “statistically significant increases” in their capacity to understand and recognize words. 

“Healthy hearing is not just about the volume of sound, but about the broader ability to communicate,” she said in the Phase 1 study publication. “The most frequent complaint from patients with hearing loss is their inability to understand speech, which is due to a lack of clarity and loss of intelligibility where patients can’t recognize words and follow conversations, particularly in background noise.” 

See the release: 

See the Phase 1 results here: 

— The number of Wisconsin counties seeing high levels of COVID-19 activity has declined over the past two weeks, according to a CDC measure. 

A Department of Health Services map with community levels of COVID-19 shows 11 counties are currently in the “high” category for disease activity. That’s down from the 18 counties with high activity levels in late May. 

The CDC metric includes new case numbers, new hospital admissions and the share of inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Residents in counties with high activity levels are recommended to wear masks in public, indoor places. 

Meanwhile, more counties have also moved from “medium” to “low” activity as case numbers and hospitalizations stabilize statewide. 

The latest seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in the state is 1,755 cases per day, the DHS site shows. That’s more than three times as high as that number was two months ago, but slightly lower than the average of 2,200 cases per day seen in mid-May. 

The DHS site also shows no significant change in COVID-19 patient hospitalizations over the past two weeks. That’s an improvement from early May, when the northeast, southeast and south central regions of the state were all seeing rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 417 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 65 intensive care patients. Both of those numbers have seen a slight increase over the past week, but remain very low compared to recent surges. 

See the community levels map: 

Track case numbers here: 

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— WEA Trust has announced it will no longer provide health insurance after this year and will lay off 110 employees. 

The Madison-based not-for-profit insurance company was created in 1970 for school district employees in the state. 

Vaughn Vance, company president and CEO, says the decision was driven by consolidation in the health care market, costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic and falling stock prices. 

“It became clear that we had to make the difficult decision to pivot as an organization before we sacrificed what has made WEA Trust unique for many years,” he said in a release. 

The company says it will continue to maintain long-term care, life and vision coverage for members. 

“We made long-term commitments decades ago to members in our long term care and life products that will be in place well into the future,” Vance said. “It is in the best interest of our members to pivot our offerings to sustain those promises.” 

See the release: 

— District directors for the Wisconsin Farmers Union are touting a proposed framework for stabilizing dairy prices. 

“By managing the growth of the supply of milk into the market, everyone’s price is going to go up,” Columbia County Farmers Union President Sarah Lloyd said during a recent WisconsinEye interview focused on June Dairy Month in Wisconsin. “And this is actually a savings for the government … we’re oversupplying the market right now, because we’re totally uncoordinated and everyone’s just trying to run faster on the treadmill.” 

Lloyd discussed the national Dairy Together movement, which aims to include dairy pricing policy changes in the next federal Farm Bill. The existing 2018 Farm Bill is due to expire in 2023, and farm groups have been calling for inclusion of “commonsense growth management” measures in the next iteration, she explained. 

“This slows everything down, allows people to plan, gives everybody a higher price — so that maybe people that might expand because they’re trying to get that many more units of milk out, won’t need to,” Lloyd said. 

Tina Hinchley, owner of Hinchley’s Dairy Farm in Cambridge and another WFU district director, said meetings of Wisconsin farmers this spring have shown “that we need better, we need more.” 

She said National Farmers Union members are planning a July “fly-in” to appeal to members of Congress in Washington, D.C. 

“If we are not here, if the dairy industry is continually failing — which it is, it’s broken, the system is broken right now — we need to make sure that we can do better,” she said. 

Newsmakers host Lisa Pugh noted the state lost 360 dairy herds in 2021, marking a 5 percent decline over the year. Since January, Wisconsin has lost 127 dairy herds, bringing the state’s total number to around 6,400 in May. But at the same time, the state’s total milk production in 2021 exceeded the previous record from 2020 by about 3 percent.  

Lloyd argued against further consolidation in farming, noting farms function as “economic engines” for rural communities around the state. She pointed to all the other businesses that supply farms with fertilizer, maintenance services, fuel, veterinary services and more. 

“We’re part of this important system,” she said. “When we lose one of those economic engines, that impacts all the other businesses around us. And also I think the environmental risk of having bigger and bigger farms — you’re concentrating the manure all in one place and I think that’s too risky.” 

See the full interview: 

— More than 3,000 Wisconsinites who took on student loan debt to attend Corinthian Colleges are getting over $36 million in loans forgiven, according to the state DOJ. 

A Department of Justice release shows 3,320 borrowers in the state will receive $36.2 million in full loan discharges. 

The U.S. Department of Education last week announced all remaining federal student loans borrowed to attend any Corinthian college will be forgiven, resulting in 560,000 borrowers receiving $5.8 billion in full loan discharges. 

“Corinthian’s predatory practices unfairly left people across the country with substantial debt, and this action is long overdue,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement. “I applaud the Biden administration for taking this step that will result in the full discharge of student loan debt for more than 3,000 Wisconsinites.”

According to the DOJ’s release, the agency petitioned the DOE in 2016 to discharge Corinthian students in Wisconsin from their student loan debt under the Borrower Defense to Repayment program. 

Corinthian Colleges “engaged in widespread and pervasive misrepresentations” on students’ employment prospects, while misleading students about credit transferability and falsifying job placement rates, the release shows. 

See the release: 


# Business lending remains healthy in Wisconsin amidst a raft of challenges

# WEA Trust to stop offering health insurance in Wisconsin, lay off 110 employees

# Harley-Davidson to restart Wisconsin, Pennsylvania plants



– Class III milk price hits all-time high of $25.21

– Wisconsin to host National Outstanding Farmer Competition in ’23


– CCI, Phoenix set to break ground at Beloit Gateway Business Park

– Milwaukee ranks among the top 10 big U.S. cities for multi-family construction growth


– DNR wraps up remediation at former Janesville General Motors site


– Submit recipes now for the Dane County Farmers Market cookbook


– Are abortions ever medically necessary? Wisconsin doctors say yes

– Froedtert Hospital explores new parking structure, elevator addition


– Meatpacking company settles COVID-19 workplace allegations


– Don Smiley to retire as CEO of Milwaukee World Festivals next year


– Harley-Davidson to resume production on Monday


– State congressional Reps. push Biden to aid farmers


– Milwaukee lot near Komatsu, Rockwell for sale for mixed-income apartment developments

– City issues RFP for Walker’s Point parcel in Freshwater Plaza

– Red Rock Saloon building sold to LLC connected to Red Lion Pub owner


– Long vacant Grafton Pick ‘n Save could become Harbor Freight Tools


– Mayo Health and student researchers study sleep in college athletes


– New dating app bringing virtual speed dating event to Summerfest

– Rapid Radicals Technology wins 2022 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest


– WisDOT’s Lake Interchange tweet unleashes the fury of online urbanists


– Tom Still: A steady flow of Wisconsin innovation may help ease water woes


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