State agencies issued new fish consumption guidance Wednesday for bodies of water that lead into Rock County after testing showed high enough levels of a type of PFAS, which are known as “forever chemicals.”
Fish sampling led the state Department of Natural Resources and the state’s health department to issue new recommendations for eating fish from the Yahara chain of lakes and waterways in Dane County flowing into the Rock River, according to a press release and news conference from state officials Wednesday.
The testing from fish sampled in 2020 showed elevated levels of PFOS, which is a type of PFAS, in fish from lakes Monona, Kegonsa and Waubesa, the release states.
The state agencies then released fish consumption advisories for the “Yahara Chain waters from Wingra Creek, Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, Upper and Lower Mud Lakes, Lake Kegonsa and the Yahara River downstream to where it meets the Rock River,” the release states.
The recommendations are to limit consumption of crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike and walleye from those bodies of water to one meal per month.
For bluegill, pumpkinseed and yellow perch, the agencies recommended limits of one meal per week. The guideline for yellow perch moved from one meal per month to one meal per week, according to the release.
Contamination levels were not high enough to issue a full recommendation against eating those fish, officials said.
When asked what effects could be seen further along the Rock River, DNR Communications Director Sarah Hoye said in an email that 2020 surface water sample data from the Rock River in Afton below the confluence with the Yahara showed concentrations of PFOS “well below the concentrations in the Yahara Lakes.”
“This is consistent with the other data and information we have that suggests PFOS is diminishing as we proceed downstream of Starkweather Creek,” she said, adding that the DNR “intends to sample surface water downstream of Stoughton to the Rock River this year.”
Starkweather Creek is the main source of PFAS to the Yahara chain of lakes and waterways, she said. So when moving downstream, “the concentrations decline because of dilution.”
“This is not a plume of contaminated water moving downstream,” she said.
Additionally, she said there are no plans at the moment to sample fish in the lower Yahara River this year.
PFAS, according to the DNR, are humanmade chemicals that have entered the environment through manners such as spills or discharges of wastewater with PFAS in it. PFAS have appeared in nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and firefighting foam.
Some emerging research into PFAS suggests that the chemicals can increase cholesterol levels, decrease responsiveness to vaccines and decrease fertility in women, according to the release, which also said more health information is posted on the state health department’s website.
Those who have questions about fish they have consumed from the aforementioned bodies of water should talk to their doctors, said Nathan Kloczko, state health department site evaluation program coordinator for the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health.
Kloczko said state officials are reaching out to local health departments to coordinate outreach efforts, such as signage, to inform those around these bodies of water about the contamination.
Young adults in Generation Z are refusing the COVID-19 shot at a higher rate than other age groups, a development that many public health experts and White House officials worry could prolong the virus’s spread and lead to dangerous new mutations.
“For young people who may think this doesn’t affect you, listen up, please. This virus, even a mild case, can be with you for months. It will impact on your social life,” President Joe Biden said at the White House on Wednesday.
Some public health experts warn that young adults’ decisions to shun the shot could have big consequences.
“I think our best bet to get closer to herd immunity, if not get there, is to pick up young people,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “They can make a real dent when the remaining adults are still sort of hardcore vaccine-hesitant.”
The more people who refuse the vaccine, the more chances the virus has to mutate. American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin said he is concerned the virus will mutate rapidly within unvaccinated young and healthy people and create a new strain that is resistant to the COVID-19 vaccines on the market.
“The best way to think about them is little brushfires, little outbreaks,” Benjamin said. “We’re running the risk of starting this thing all over again.”
The young and healthy were not prioritized in the early days of the COVID-19 vaccination effort when much of the public health messaging focused on protecting the elderly and the frail.
When Gen Z adults who are 18 to 24 became eligible to get vaccinated, many didn’t see a need to rush. COVID-19 case numbers are falling, mask restrictions are disappearing and life has, in many ways, started returning to normal.
“The argument that this is protecting Grandma doesn’t work anymore because Grandma’s already vaccinated,” Benjamin said.
Unlike other age groups, Gen Z vaccine hesitancy increased over time, polling shows.
Twenty-six percent of Gen Z adults say they are not vaccinated and have no plans to get the shot, according to a March 2021 poll from NBCLX and Morning Consult. That’s up from March 2020 when the same polling organization found just 5% of Gen Z adults said they would not get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Similarly, a recent STAT-Harris poll found that more than half of Gen Z adults said they were not in any hurry to get the vaccine.
This age group has a variety of reasons for not getting the shot. Some fell prey to misinformation on social media about negative side effects, such as unfounded rumors about the shot causing fertility issues.
Caplan said he likes to remind vaccine-hesitant people that vaccine side effects usually show up within a year and a half, and scientists have already looked for all these outcomes since trials began in March 2020. But contracting the virus can lead to serious issues down the line.
Some who have already had a mild case of the virus aren’t worried about contracting it again or believe they already have immunity. And others feel they can wait for a shot since many young and healthy people don’t contract severe disease if they get the virus.
The Biden administration is trying to nudge this group to get vaccinated with promotions, gimmicks and vaccine challenges.
On Wednesday, the White House and the Department of Education announced a COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge to bring shots to universities. The administration is also encouraging students to participate in the COVID-19 Community Corps.
Biden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci collaborated with YouTube stars, including Manny MUA and Jackie Aina, to get out their vaccine messaging. In the somewhat campy videos, the president rotates between questions about COVID-19 vaccine development and his top desert island skin care product.
The administration is also reaching out to young people via dating apps, such as Hinge and Tinder. Vaccinated individuals can earn badges on their profiles and “super likes,” which can help them link up with vaccinated potential partners.
But this might not be enough. Jordan Tralins, a Cornell University rising junior, says much of the pro-vaccine messaging isn’t aimed at her generation. Most of her friends get their news from TikTok and Instagram, and much of the vaccine information on her feed was questionable at best. So she and a classmate founded the Covid Campus Coalition, a student-led organization that shares infographics and TikToks promoting information about COVID-19 vaccines. So far, the coalition has chapters in more than 25 college campuses across the country, and Tralins plans to keep growing.
“I recognized at the start of the vaccination process that it’s just kind of a lack of presence in platforms where you know Gen Z and younger individuals spend their time looking,” Tralins said.
Though students at her university have been receptive to vaccination, that’s not the case for all colleges participating in the Covid Campus Coalition, she noted. Some larger universities in the South are having a more difficult time convincing students to get vaccinated.
Young adults “felt pretty invincible. They felt like if they got COVID, it wouldn’t be a big deal, so what’s the point of getting the vaccine?” Tralins said.
Lisa Costello, a West Virginia University assistant professor of general pediatrics, said she has noticed that young adults and teens she works with are more likely to trust one another than the government. That’s why social media campaigns and peer-to-peer messaging can be effective.
“It’s also important in this group that we help this age group see the benefits of vaccination over the harm that COVID may pose to them,” Costello said.
Young adults ages 18 to 29 currently make up 22.5% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S., more than any other age group and disproportionately higher than their share of the population, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Despite being such a high percentage of cases, they only make up 0.5% of virus deaths. The CDC doesn’t measure cases or deaths for adults ages 18 to 24.
Although people in Gen Z are much less likely to die of the virus, they could still spread it to others who are more vulnerable or suffer long-term health effects if they get COVID-19.
Despite the concerns, Amesh Adalja, a John Hopkins Center for Health Security senior scholar, is not overly worried about the low vaccination uptake among young adults in Gen Z. He hopes this age group will reach population-level immunity via a combination of vaccinations and natural infection, and virus spread in this relatively low-risk age group will become endemic and seasonal.
“It would be much more worrisome if there was a group of 65-year-olds that were reluctant if instead of Gen Z, if it was the Greatest Generation or something,” Adalja said.
“We’re going to have to sort of recalibrate how we think about COVID-19 because it’s something that is not going away,” he added.
William Joseph Cabanowski Jr.
Malcolm J. “MJ” Curry
Constance Elizabeth “Connie” Dalton
Jerrold A. Hein
Ross L. Jacobson
Francis E. McCumber
Howard Harold Woods
The Wisconsin Senate approved Republican-backed bills Wednesday that would create new hurdles for the elderly and disabled to cast absentee ballots, limit the number and location of ballot drop boxes, and impose new penalties for violating election law.
All the measures are almost certain to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has said he opposes anything that makes it more difficult to vote.
The proposals are among more than a dozen election-related changes that Republicans are pushing this year after former President Donald Trump’s narrow defeat in the battleground state. They are part of a national push by Republicans to change election laws after President Joe Biden’s win. Evers is expected to present his opposition to the Republican push to make it more difficult to vote as a central part of his 2022 election campaign because his veto stands in the way of them getting enacted.
“These bills are in seek of a problem that does not exist in the state of Wisconsin,” Democratic Rep. Melissa Agard of Madison said. “They’re making it harder for our friends and neighbors across the state to vote, especially our seniors, especially our people with disabilities, especially people of color. ... Plain and simple, this is voter suppression, and that to me is not OK.”
Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, echoed Agard’s concerns.
“It is one thing for Republicans to promote their wild conspiracy theories with their political base,” Ringhand said in a statement. “It is another thing to make it harder for people to vote and attack our municipal clerks in order to appease people who refuse to believe that Donald Trump lost the election and believe he will be reinstated this summer.”
Republican backers said the bills were meant to address problems and irregularities that arose from the 2020 presidential election.
“We’re not trying to overturn the election. My colleagues are not trying to overturn the last election,” Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of Whitefish Bay said. “We’re not trying to say there’s a ‘big lie.’”
The bills now head to the Assembly, where Republican Speaker Robin Vos voiced support and said they were just the beginning of election changes the Legislature would consider.
One bill would require most elderly and disabled people who are indefinitely confined to show photo ID in order to vote absentee; require all absentee voters to fill out more paperwork and show their ID every time they vote absentee, rather than just the first time as is current law; and require voters who are confined to apply to get an absentee ballot every year rather than have them sent automatically as they are now.
It passed on an 18-14 vote, with all Democrats against along with Republican Sens. Kathy Bernier, chairwoman of the Elections Committee, and Sen. Ron Cowles.
Another bill, passed on a party line vote, would make it a felony for an employee of a nursing home or other care facility to coerce an occupant to apply for, or not apply for, an absentee ballot. The bill is so broadly written that any comment or action related to absentee ballots could be prosecuted as a potential violation, according to Law Forward, an advocacy group formed in part to fight measures that restrict access to the polls.
The Senate also passed a bill on a voice vote that would limit the number of ballot drop boxes in any community and restrict where they can be located. Municipalities with populations under 70,000 can only have a drop box at the election clerk’s office. Larger cities can have three additional drop boxes on municipal property, including police and fire stations, but not public parks.
Many communities across Wisconsin had multiple drop boxes to make it easier for voters to return ballots during the presidential election last year amid a record surge in absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans in Wisconsin have already approved a review of the 2020 election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and hired retired police officers to investigate unfounded reports of widespread voter fraud. Trump’s narrow loss to Biden by about 20,600 votes in Wisconsin has already withstood recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and numerous state and federal lawsuits.
The Senate on Wednesday also gave final approval to a bill it previously supported that would generally prohibit counties and municipalities from accepting grants or donations from private entities to help run elections.
That bill comes after the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life awarded more than $6 million to five Wisconsin cities to help with the November election. The nonprofit’s $250 million in grants awarded nationwide were funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. Conservatives sued to stop the funding in Wisconsin, but they lost in federal court.
It also passed 18-14, with Bernier and Cowles joining Democrats against it.
Senate passage sends the bill to Evers, who is likely to veto it.
The Senate did not vote as originally planned on a bill that would have required anyone under age 65 who claims to be indefinitely confined to get a signed statement from a doctor with violators guilty of a felony.