Gov. Tony Evers on Monday activated the Wisconsin National Guard to protect the state Capitol building and ordered the building’s ground-floor windows boarded up after federal investigators warned “armed protests” were being planned at statehouses across the country to oppose the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.
The Evers administration authorized the National Guard to back up Wisconsin State Capitol police and took the “proactive cautionary” measure of boarding up the statehouse’s windows after thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump converged on the U.S. Capitol last week to oppose the results of the Nov. 6 election, a breach that resulted in five deaths, injuries to police officers and significant damage to the building.
Guard members will serve in a support role to local authorities and conduct a site security mission, according to the Evers administration.
“Once again, our state has asked our Citizen Soldiers in the Wisconsin National Guard to answer the call to keep our state, its citizens, and its institutions safe,” Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said in a statement.
The move came after an internal Federal Bureau of Investigation bulletin obtained by ABC News on Monday showed armed protesters planned to arrive at every state capitol in the country in the coming days.
“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Kaul said the state Department of Justice is “monitoring” the situation.
The FBI has received information in recent days on a group calling for “storming” state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings in the event Trump is removed from office prior to Inauguration Day, according to ABC News.
The group is also planning to “storm” government offices in every state the day Biden will be inaugurated, regardless of whether the state certified electoral votes for Biden or Trump.
Gillian Drummond, spokeswoman for Kaul, did not answer whether the FBI has contacted the state DOJ about a potential threat or risk of armed conflict at the state Capitol in Madison.
Federal law enforcement officials have advised police agencies to increase security at statehouses, law enforcement sources told ABC News.
The state Capitol is closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. Firearms are allowed on Capitol grounds.
Aides to Gov. Tony Evers, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not respond to whether they have discussed changing rules related to firearms at the Capitol in light of the FBI bulletin.
Backpacks once again will bulge with books and notepads, cars will fill the high school parking lot, and students of all ages will return to classrooms in the Milton School District next week.
As staff prepares for students to return, Superintendent Rich Dahman shared a hopeful sentiment Monday, saying school district employees could receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine within 30 days.
Dahman told the school board that with COVID-19 cases staying fairly stable, the district will reopen its schools to in-person learning as planned Tuesday, Jan. 19.
The school board closed schools to in-person learning from Nov. 30 to Jan. 15 because of high virus activity in Rock County and the possibility that families would gather over the holidays.
Dahman said positive cases have increased in the district since the end of December but not necessarily among students and staff. He said overall COVID-19 trends have moved in the right direction, and case numbers have dropped since officials decided to close school buildings.
“There’s been a slight increase in positive cases since Dec. 28,” he said, “... but if you recall, that number peaked back in November and did decrease through December, and the increase over the last couple of weeks is pretty slight. It has stayed pretty steady since late December.
“Hospitals in the area remain at critical staffing shortages, so we want to make sure that we’re continuing to do everything that we can to limit the risk to our students and staff and families and community.”
The district continues to work with Rock County and with Dean Health Services on its vaccination plan, he said.
“We wouldn’t be distributing vaccines to our staff members through the school, but we will be coordinating both with Rock County and with Dean as vaccines become available to make sure that we are getting those and making that scheduled out for our staff,” Dahman said.
Staff members who have health-related jobs, such as school nurses and health assistants, and teachers of young children will be prioritized for vaccines.
Two Wisconsin legislators pointed fingers in different directions Monday as they criticized the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
“Although there’s still some uncertainty in when the vaccine will be rolled out for all school staff, they did say the hope is that within the next one month, we would be able to have everyone go through at least the first round of the vaccine,” Dahman said.
As the second semester looms, some elementary students are preparing to switch between in-person and virtual models. Students had to notify principals in November if they wanted to change.
More students are switching to in-person from virtual learning, Dahman said, but the numbers weren’t immediately available Monday.
The district was able to accommodate every switch request, and students will remain with a teacher they were working with online. Officials will look at the numbers again in March and could consider another opportunity to switch.
“It really is keeping in mind our two goals of providing a high-quality education for all students and also limiting the risk to the safety for our students, staff, families and community,” Dahman said.
Parent Tracy Hannah wrote to the school board, pointing to the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases and saying she wished the district had not pivoted to virtual learning.
“This board was wrong for not asking for other options,” she said. “Other schools in our area did, and in-person learning remained or was only slightly limited. Three wrongs do not make a right, and virtual learning is not a replacement for in-person learning. And I urge this board to look at other options in the future rather than being quick to pull the trigger strictly based on projections of the health department ...”
After the school board voted 4-3 on Dec. 14 to allow sports to resume, Dahman said early signs show students are taking the necessary precautions to keep these activities running.
Games and meets are being held, and there are home sports every day this week in Milton, Dahman said.
After one visiting team failed to follow Milton’s guidelines, the district stopped scheduling competitions with the school and told others that Milton teams will compete only if guidelines are followed.
One district team had to quarantine after playing an opponent that had an athlete test positive.
Dahman said district officials expected that and continue to monitor athletes.
“We knew going in that there was a likelihood that that type of situation would happen and that we would deal with those situations on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Patricia Ann Barkas
Ruth Kathleen Corkhill
Michael J. Dow
Marlys J. Gallup
Virginia (Terhune) Godina
Patricia Ann (Scott) Playter
Catherine M. Robison
Arthur E. Whalen Jr.
Two members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation expressed frustration Monday with the slowness of vaccine distribution in the state, but they pointed their fingers in different directions.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said the federal government’s vaccine effort has been “pathetic.”
Republican Rep. Bryan Steil of Janesville used the same word to describe efforts by Gov. Tony Evers’ administration.
“This is a matter of life or death for many. Do your job, Governor,” Steil tweeted.
The legislators had sent joint letters to state and federal authorities, requesting information about vaccination efforts.
“I have requested answers from both state and federal officials and have asked these questions in a bipartisan manner,” Steil said in a statement to The Gazette. “According to news reports, Wisconsin has gotten off to a slow start with the vaccine distribution. That is unacceptable. Our goal must be to have Wisconsin leading the nation in vaccine distribution.”
Some local health care providers have reported a shaky start to vaccine distribution, although inoculations are picking up, as The Gazette reported Monday.
Vaccines have been slow to get to nursing homes and other care facilities statewide, according to news reports.
Steil pointed out Sunday that Wisconsin ranked 39th in per-capita vaccine distribution. The state improved to 34th on the list as of Monday.
Baldwin, in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, called for a coordinated federal vaccine distribution plan, something she said President Donald Trump’s administration had months to prepare.
“For months, I have been urging the Trump administration to effectively work and communicate with Wisconsin, vaccine and PPE manufacturers, and health-care providers to develop a national #COVID19 vaccine distribution plan. Their response has been a pathetic failure,” Baldwin tweeted Monday.
The administration should have issued detailed guidelines and sent personnel and funding to help states distribute the vaccine, Baldwin said.
The $617 million in federal funding already provided to states for vaccine distribution is “woefully inadequate,” she said.
Congress included $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution in its latest COVID-19 relief bill, Baldwin said, and the Trump administration should move swiftly to distribute the money.
Steil and Baldwin requested information from the Evers administration in December, Steil said.
Evers’ response included this: “It is difficult to predict when the general public will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as it is dependent on supply which is still uncertain, and the delivery system is still under development.”
Evers said “best estimates” are that after various groups of people—including the elderly, ill and those who work with the public—get the vaccine this winter and spring, the “general public” will get the vaccine beginning in June.
The Evers response includes organizational steps, including a state vaccination task force that includes members of the state health department, Wisconsin Emergency Management and the National Guard.
“These bureaucratic answers display a stunning lack of urgency in getting people the life-saving help they need,” Steil wrote. “People in Wisconsin are dying every day, workers are out of work, small businesses are shuttered, and kids are out of school.”
Steil did not suggest measures the governor should take, but he said Evers was making excuses rather than leading.
“If Governor Evers cannot figure out how to distribute the vaccine to those who need it, he should step aside and let someone who can lead this effort do it,” Steil wrote.
Baldwin suggested the federal response could include mass vaccination clinics and mobile testing units.
“Federal responsibility does not end with the distribution of the vaccine to states, as you have suggested,” Baldwin said in the letter to Azar.
Rather, she wrote, the system should be a partnership that includes state, tribal and local governments.
Federal efforts should include a public campaign “to provide science-based information to promote high vaccination rates,” Baldwin said.
Some health care workers have been reluctant to get the vaccine, although how many is not known.
Baldwin and Steil wrote to the leaders of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed on Dec. 23, asking for clarifications in the wake of shortfalls of vaccine supply to Wisconsin reported at the time.
“Our state needs robust, accurate, and transparent information in order to develop vaccination plans and effectively vaccinate our frontline health care workers and long-term-care facility residents in this early stage of the vaccination process,” the lawmakers wrote.
Evers echoed that statement in his response to Steil and Baldwin, saying Wisconsin officials “need better vaccine supply estimates farther into the future” from Operation Warp Speed in order to plan efficient vaccine delivery and provide transparency to the public.
Doug Christenson was fortunate enough to recover from COVID-19 and be among the first to receive a vaccine for the disease when it became available at Cedar Crest, a retirement community where he has lived for more than a year.
Christenson, 77, said he realizes how lucky he was to recover from the pneumonia and chest congestion that accompanied the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus.
The Beloit native is happy to be one step closer to seeing his wife, who has not been able to visit him during the pandemic. They talk on the phone two or three times a day.
On Sunday, 214 Cedar Crest residents and staff members received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine, one of two vaccines approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Cedar Crest has partnered with CVS Pharmacy to deliver vaccinations. Nearly all nursing homes in the state are partnered with a pharmacy company, such as CVS or Walgreens, through the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program for vaccine administration.
That is different from the state distribution process through which health care providers such as Mercyhealth and SSM Health get vaccine.
Like many others, Cedar Crest officials had hoped to have vaccines sooner, but Sunday’s vaccine arrival was right about when officials anticipated to have their first doses, said Meredith Aarud, vice president of clinical services at Cedar Crest.
CVS officials reached out to Cedar Crest weeks in advance, giving Cedar Crest time to prepare, Aarud said.
Initial plans had Cedar Crest receiving fewer doses Sunday, but distribution went efficiently, allowing more doses to be given, said Tammy Fatla, life enrichment director.
Having paperwork completed early, organized scheduling and an ample number of staff to help the CVS team made the process more efficient, Aarud said.
About half of Cedar Crest’s 200 employees received vaccines, Fatla said.
Residents in the assisted living and skilled nursing facilities received vaccines, among some others, Aarud said.
Residents in Cedar Crest’s apartment units and other facilities have yet to be vaccinated. Aarud guessed that 99% of residents, if not all, want to be vaccinated when doses are available.
CVS officials will return to Cedar Crest on Sunday, Feb. 7, to vaccinate more staff and residents, Aarud said. Vaccine clinics will continue until everyone who wants to be is vaccinated.
The presence of vaccines does not mean Cedar Crest and other nursing homes are able to return to normal operations.
Staff and residents will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, and everyone will continue to wear protective gear, Fatla said.
Cedar Crest will monitor local COVID-19 data and look to advice from the Rock County Public Health Department before rolling back any protections, Aarud said.
Other nursing homes in Rock County have started receiving vaccines, but it is not publicly known how many.
The Gazette was unable to reach public health officials by press time for an answer on how many nursing homes have received vaccine doses.
Kevin Peters, a nurse at Cedar Crest, said it feels like a relief to be one step closer to providing safety for staff and residents.
Peters said he has yet to meet a single resident who does not want to be vaccinated.
Christenson said he recommends everyone research and seriously consider getting the vaccine, which he said felt just the same as getting a flu shot.