TUE AM News: Expert says addressing ‘long COVID’ should be ‘highest priority’; More counties seeing high levels of COVID-19 activity

— One of the state’s top COVID-19 experts says understanding, preventing and treating the condition known as “long COVID” should be “our highest priority.” 

Speaking during a recent webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Dr. Nasia Safdar said this syndrome has been “underrecognized and underappreciated” despite its potentially widespread impact. Safdar is a professor of infectious diseases in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. 

“For the next foreseeable future, understanding long COVID, identifying therapies and figuring out ways to prevent it has to be our highest priority,” she said. 

This syndrome — also called post-COVID conditions — involves persistent symptoms or new symptoms that arise 30 days or more after the initial infection, Safdar explained. A wide range of symptoms have been reported in those affected, including fatigue, headache, weakness of limbs, muscle pain, loss of concentration, insomnia and others. 

Safdar pointed to research that found patients who received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had “far less frequency” of all long COVID symptoms compared to those who were unvaccinated. 

“This is even in the people who got vaccinated and still had breakthrough infections … even if you have a breakthrough infection, you’re much less likely to have long COVID if you were vaccinated to begin,” she said. “And there’s a lot of active lines of inquiry underway.” 

She also discussed the current national picture for the COVID-19 pandemic, noting case counts are likely a “huge underestimate” given the widespread availability of at-home tests. Because those results typically aren’t being reported to public health authorities, she expects the majority of cases aren’t being counted. 

Still, she noted about half of the U.S. population has tested positive for antibodies coming from direct infections rather than vaccines. 

“This is also likely to be an underestimate, but this is in part what may help us in the future as we encounter additional variants as long as … whatever immunity we have will also work against them,” she said. “And that, in part, has been the case with what’s circulating now.” 

Because the omicron subvariants of COVID-19 driving the majority of new infections are much more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus, Safdar noted “the six feet of distancing really doesn’t seem to mean much” anymore. 

“Even with a lot more distancing, it’s going to be very hard to contain because now it’s small droplets that are carried on the airstreams from person to person, and difficult for distancing to help that,” she said. “Masking of course is still helpful.” 

The type of mask being worn matters, she added, as people wearing respirators had much lower rates of testing positive for the virus, according to a recent federal study. That’s why these types of masks are more beneficial for those who are immunocompromised, she said. 

Still, she said masking adherence and mask quality are both important factors for reducing viral spread at the population level. 

“Even if it’s cloth masks but everyone is wearing them, it will be better than fewer people wearing a respirator, for instance,” she said. “High efficacy and average adherence is also fine.” 

Watch the video here: 


— While much of the state is seeing higher levels of COVID-19 activity, a state infectious disease expert says residents should feel “empowered” due to more prevention and treatment options. 

“If and when we get exposed to the virus, there are things we can do to keep ourselves safe,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

Speaking yesterday during a Department of Health Services media briefing, he pointed to vaccination and boosters as particularly helpful prior to infection. He also noted masking in crowded areas and staying home when sick with the virus. 

“But now, importantly, even if someone becomes exposed or infected, we have more tools that can get people feeling better more quickly and prevent the risk of hospitalization,” he said. 

Earlier this month, DHS announced oral antiviral medications for treating COVID-19 are “widely available,” with over 480 pharmacies in the state able to fill prescriptions for these treatments. 

Yesterday’s briefing was held after DHS announced that seven counties have moved into the “high” category for the Community Levels metric, which incorporates new cases as well as measures of COVID-19 activity in hospitals. 

Residents of Barron, Rusk, La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon, Racine and Kenosha counties are now recommended to wear a mask or respirator when in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, the DHS release shows. 

Meanwhile, 38 counties in the state are in the “medium” Community Levels category and 27 are in the “low” category, the DHS site shows. 

Westergaard noted the state is headed in “the wrong direction” but added the current situation represents a “mild to moderate” surge in cases and hospitalizations. 

“We’re not seeing large surges that put us at risk of people not getting the highest quality level of care that they’re entitled to and accustomed to receiving,” he said. “That was a real risk in January when hospitals were so crowded and there were staffing shortages. I haven’t heard that we’re having those types of strain. But it’s going up, and so that’s why we want people to pay attention and to take some action to try and cut down transmission.” 

See a map with Community Levels here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/data.htm 

See the DHS release: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/051622.htm 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com.</i>

Sign up here: http://forms.gle/o8FtqTLviGJPja8C9

— The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network plans to offer an advanced form of radiation therapy in 2024 that’s not currently available in the state. 

The health network announced yesterday that “proton therapy” will be available for eligible cancer patients in the second half of 2024 through a new partnership with Texas-based Legion Healthcare Partners. Construction is slated to begin early next year at the health network’s Clinical Cancer Center at the Froedtert Hospital campus in Milwaukee. 

According to an overview from the Mayo Clinic, proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses high-powered beams of energy to treat forms of cancer as well as noncancerous tumors. It uses proton particles rather than X-rays. Since this form of therapy is more precise, it “may cause fewer side effects” than traditional radiation, the overview shows. 

Proton therapy also delivers a higher dose of radiation while being able to avoid healthy tissues and organs near the tumor, according to the Froedtert & MCW release. 

The health network says the addition of proton therapy in Wisconsin “will make precision radiation therapy more accessible to adult and pediatric cancer patients who currently travel out of state for this treatment.” 

See more details in the release:

— WEDC has announced Perlick Corporation will be eligible for up to $400,000 in state income tax credits over the next three years for a renovation project of its Milwaukee manufacturing facility. 

According to a release from the agency, the manufacturer’s $11.5 million “renovating and revitalizing” project is expected to create 35 jobs over the next three years. The amount of tax credits the company will earn depends on how many jobs it creates and the amount of capital it invests in the project during that time. 

“Perlick has been in Milwaukee for 105 years and intends to stay here,” company Vice President Theodore Perlick Molinari said in the release. “We intend that the business will grow well beyond the grant years to provide jobs for generations of Wisconsin residents.”

The company says the project aims to meet rising customer demand and improve operations while helping to attract and retain talent. 

An economic modeling study from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. estimates the project will indirectly create another 61 jobs, for a total of 96 new jobs in the region. 

The company manufactures commercial and residential bar products such as refrigerators, beverage dispensers and ice makers. 

See more on the project: 

— The J-1 visa program is rebounding after essentially shutting down because of the pandemic, boosting a major employment lifeline for summer tourism hot spots like Wisconsin Dells and Door County.

“We’re going to be better than 100 percent of where we were in 2019,” Tom Diehl, president and co-owner of Tommy Bartlett Inc., said on WISN’s “UpFront.” “So we shouldn’t have the problem that we’ve had as a community.”

The latest data from the U.S. State Department shows the Wisconsin Dells area is expecting 2,972 international students for summer work, while Door County expects 421.

Diehl said without the J-1 labor force, Wisconsin Dells’ employment levels can’t top 70 percent of what is needed.

Typically, Wisconsin Dells sees a major influx of Ukrainian students, but it won’t this year given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“This year I don’t think we’ll have 10,” Diehl said. “They’re wonderful people and work hard. They felt comfortable here because there were enough people that spoke their language, and so it’s a real travesty.”

Also on the program, Romy Snyder, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau, says reservations are on pace to be higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Early last year we already started seeing pent-up demand just for wanting to get out, get back with family and friends,” Snyder said. “Wisconsin Dells is geographically located between Chicago, and Minneapolis, easy access off the interstate, so we’re a very natural family reunion destination, and we are seeing that same level of demand this year as well.”

See more from UpFront at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/state-tourism-seeing-rebound-industry-leaders-tell-upfront/ 

— The UW Board of Regents has named UCLA Law School Dean Dr. Jennifer L. Mnookin the new Madison chancellor. 

Mnookin, who replaces Rebecca Blank as lead of the system’s flagship campus, will begin as chancellor on Aug. 4.

Blank’s last day is to be May 31, and UW-Madison Provost John Karl Scholz will serve as interim chancellor until Mnookin takes the helm.

The board’s unanimous approval followed the recommendation of a 21-member selection committee. 

“I am excited to welcome Jennifer Mnookin to the UW-Madison campus,” Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III said. “Her energy is infectious, and her knowledge of Wisconsin and the Madison campus community is impressive. She is ready to be a Badger. Incoming Chancellor Mnookin is a dynamic leader, and I look forward to working with her.”

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/uw-system-dr-jennifer-l-mnookin-named-new-chancellor-of-uw-madison/ 

See the reaction to Mnookin’s appointment at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/subscribers-only/pm-update/ 


# UCLA law dean Jennifer Mnookin named UW-Madison chancellor


# Homebuilding could be slowing in southeast Wisconsin but ramping up statewide


# Milwaukee mayor, business leaders exploring solutions following violent weekend



– Wisconsin farmland values trending higher from last year


– Two vying for seats on state ginseng board



– How supply shortages are hampering Green Bay area businesses



– State Corn Foundation announces scholarship winners


– First class of Bucky’s Tuition Promise recipients graduate from UW-Madison


– Inflation drives $28 million increase in Madison School District referendum projects



– Popular state trail reopened following years of repairs

– Popular state trail reopened following years of repairs



– Froedtert to offer proton therapy for cancer treatment



– Baird revenues climb to $3.4 billion behind investment banking growth


– Cedarburg-based PartsBadger adding jobs after landing $13.8 million contract with Yeti Cycles


– Perlick plans $11.5 million in upgrades to Milwaukee plant, will add 35 jobs


– Democratic Party of Wisconsin, unionized staff strike wage deal


– Republicans knock Mnookin as pick for UW-Madison chancellor



– Large industrial projects, one eyeing South Hills CC, advance in Racine County



– Planned Ho-Chunk Nation casino in Beloit gets final approval


– Q&A: Jamaal Eubanks uses love of basketball to reach Madison youths


– Milwaukee shootings prompt Bucks to review Deer District watch party setup



– Kwik Trip adding Bitcoin ATMs in more than 800 locations



– Will downtown mayhem hurt Milwaukee’s chances of hosting the RNC?


– Springfest returns to CF, in new later dates



– Commentary: Reducing crime must be top priority


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

Findley Foundation: Earns honorable mention in 2022 BlueJeans by Verizon Customer Awards

Altus: Madison Latinx CEO chosen for D.C. business advocacy effort