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Education
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UW-Whitewater student experiences vary as COVID-19 rips through town

WHITEWATER

Kaitlyn Grove thought she was being safe by hanging out with only a few people on campus at a time.

But less than a month into her sophomore year, Grove was ordered by UW-Whitewater to move to a quarantined dorm room because she was exposed to the coronavirus, despite her best efforts to abide by safety guidelines, she said.

Grove hung out with a couple girls she knew, unaware one of them was awaiting COVID-19 test results because that person’s roommate had already tested positive.

The other girl’s test came back positive and Grove was sent to a quarantined dorm where she has to stay inside with few exceptions, take all her classes online and have her food delivered.

Grove’s COVID-19 test came back negative, but she has to stay in the quarantined dorm until two weeks after the date she was exposed.

Many people, Grove said, are testing positive and still going out to parties or hanging out with other people.

“There is no regard for community,” Grove said.

Since March, 300 cases of COVID-19 in students have been reported to the university. Of those, 236 were reported since Sept. 6, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The quick spike in COVID-19 cases in Whitewater after students returned to campus is presenting a threat to local public health resources, said Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.

Many students who have caught the virus have been OK because the population is largely young and healthy, Nevicosi said, but the health department has to investigate and contact trace each case, which requires a lot of time and manpower.

The health department is close to being pushed past its limit, Nevicosi said.

Walworth County has shifted workers from other areas to help in the contact tracing and investigating efforts and the county is continuing to hire more people, Nevicosi said.

As of now, the health department is able to make contact with people with confirmed cases within its goal of 24 to 48 hours, but that could change if cases keep climbing as quickly as they are, he said.

Many students came and went from the basketball court outside the Kachel Fieldhouse in Whitewater on Saturday. Health officials recommend outdoor activities as a way to remain social during the pandemic.

Seniors Ryan McKee, Harvey Mueller and Michael Zlotnick live together with a few other students in a house off campus, and all caught the coronavirus over the summer, they said.

Once one person gets sick in one house, it is difficult for everyone else to avoid it, they said. A few of them had mild symptoms, while McKee said he never showed symptoms despite his positive test.

The men sat outside Saturday afternoon in separated lawn chairs around a pile of beer cans, a scene that seems to have replaced the typical fall daytime adventures of tailgating football games or gathering in bars to watch the Badgers play in Madison.

Missing out on sports and other events for senior year is disappointing, McKee said.

Mueller, a business student, said he worries he will miss out on career opportunities because he can’t network with professionals in person or connect with professors who might help him find a job.

When asked if they think campus will remain open, the men, almost in unison, said no.

McKee predicts the campus will shut down soon.

A lot of students are still going out to bars or parties, which the three of them agreed is perpetuating the rising case numbers.

Younger students who are eager to get the “college experience” seem to be the ones more likely to go out and disregard safety guidelines, they said.

“If you want to be here, stop going out,” Zlotnick said. “It’s that simple.”

Nevicosi said the health department has not fielded complaints regarding Whitewater bars or restaurants related to COVID-19.

So far, the virus seems to be spreading quickly through households or people who live in shared spaces, Nevicosi said.

The health department saw earlier this year in Lake Geneva that the virus spread quickly through bar and restaurant staff members, but the health department had a hard time seeing how it spread through patrons because many people were tourists who live in other health department jurisdictions, Nevicosi said.

The health department could start seeing stronger correlations between cases and businesses in Whitewater as more cases and data are reported, he said.

Grove said campus is a “toxic” place right now because some people are not caring to follow the rules and are then called out by other people who are following rules.

It is difficult to maintain friendships with people who have varying opinions on how to act during the pandemic, Grove said.

Freshman Emily Evraets said she feels safe on campus and so far has had no negative experiences regarding COVID-19.

Anthony Wahl 

UW-Whitewater freshman Emily Evraets stands outside her dorm at UW-Whitewater on Saturday. Evraets said she feels safe on campus and around her peers despite the pandemic.

It is awkward to meet new people while wearing masks and spreading out, Evraets said, but she has made new friends pretty quickly.

Evraets was eager to get to campus and take classes in person after having ended her senior year of high school with virtual schooling, she said.

One of Evraets’ classes meets in person, but her others are online, which she said happened unintentionally.

Joe Wiebersch does missionary work with students on campus. He said many of the students he interacts with are taking the pandemic seriously and following guidelines.

If the campus were to shut down, Wiebersch said, he would lead Bible studies virtually because it is a service that is especially needed in times like this.

“People use Christ during times of uncertainty ... students are really seeking that,” Wiebersch said.

Anthony Wahl 

An encouraging message hangs on a UW-Whitewater dormitory window.


National
AP
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death will drive voter turnout. Which side does that help?

A presidential contest that had largely been a referendum on President Donald Trump and, in particular, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly broadened into something more: a fight over control of the Supreme Court.

Both sides claim their base will be more energized than ever by the vacancy created with the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday. The GOP has historically had more success in using the judiciary to rally its voters and push the courts to the right.

But the Democrats’ angst over losing a progressive luminary and fear of a solidifying conservative majority might be enough to turn this court opening into a political advantage.

The flood of donations to Democratic candidates after Ginsburg’s death and the impromptu vigils at the Supreme Court and across the nation indicate a liberal hunger, made more voracious after 3½ years of Trump, to stop the conservative tilt of the courts.

Whether that will be enough to overcome the well-honed political reflexes of evangelical Christians, who have been disciplined in their drive to use the courts to overturn abortion, remains to be seen. But one thing seems certain about the coming nomination fight—and the election now inextricably linked to it.

“It will be more intense than anything we’ve seen before,” predicted Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who counseled the Senate Judiciary Committee on seven of the nine most recent Supreme Court confirmations.

Even before Ginsburg’s death, there were signs that Democratic voters cared more about the courts this election. Four years ago, 70% of Trump supporters said Supreme Court appointments were a “very important” issue, compared with 62% of Hillary Clinton backers. This time, Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s supporters are 5 percentage points more likely than Trump supporters to rank court appointments as a top concern, according to polling done by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

That shift stems, in part, from the GOP’s recent successes in installing conservative judges at all levels of the judiciary. During Trump’s tenure, more than 200 federal judges have been confirmed and two justices have been appointed to the high court. The raft of new, younger judges will influence the judiciary for decades to come.

Until 2016, the threat of a conservative Supreme Court was never fully realized. The foundation of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, has been repeatedly upheld, albeit steadily chipped away. And there were other wins, notably the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“The sky has not fallen yet,” Gerhardt said. “That led a lot of people to be complacent.”

But after Republicans refused to vote or even hold hearings for President Barack Obama’s nomination of the moderate Merrick Garland in early March 2016, Trump has made two Supreme Court appointments—Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh—and will more than likely fill a third seat.

“The idea of going from 5-4 (conservative majority) to 6-3 is different,” said Norman Ornstein, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Additionally, “there is still that simmering deep resentment about Merrick Garland—the sense that Republicans did not play fair.”

Veterans of past court battles say they’ve also seen new verve from Democrats to take more aggressive postures about the court, such as advocating “court packing”—that is, adding Supreme Court justices to dilute the conservative majority.

Before Ginsburg’s death, “there was not a big appetite for enlarging the Supreme Court,” Ornstein said. “I think the sense was that the political ramifications were just too great, that it would unleash a huge barrage of negative pushback.”

Ornstein said he had spoken to several Democratic senators who would now be more open to the idea, particularly if Republicans ram through an appointment prior to the election or in a lame-duck session if Democrats win the White House and Senate in November.

Until then, Democrats and their allies will almost certainly benefit from supporters throwing their wallets wide open this weekend.

After Ginsburg’s death was reported Friday evening, ActBlue, a major online fundraising hub for Democrats, raised $30 million in 12 hours, shattering records.

“I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of women in the last 24 hours, many of whom are not at all interested in politics, who are ready to leave the sidelines and start phone banking, door knocking and doing whatever it takes,” said Rebecca Katz, a New York-based progressive strategist.

The reason, she said, was simple: “The threat of overturning Roe is no longer hypothetical. That’s it in a nutshell.”

Privately, one Biden campaign adviser agreed, noting that the fear of abortion being outlawed is an unparalleled motivator for younger voters—especially women—who might not be enthused about the Democratic nominee “and need a reason to get fired up.”

For many younger women, the strategist said, “RBG was iconic and adored ... and abortion is the one issue that people connect with the Supreme Court most of all.”

Rallying around the abortion issue has long been a playbook for the Republicans. The prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade has held together the party’s socially conservative base, which turns out in force election after election.

The challenge for Democrats is that there is “no one litmus test,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group focused on the judiciary. “Democrats care about a range of critically important issues.”

Conservatives have also built a vast network to groom up-and-coming jurists, with groups such as the Federalist Society compiling lists of potential judges so they are well-positioned when a vacancy arises.

In turn, Republican lawmakers—and especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—have made confirming judges a top priority.

Liberals have lacked an equivalent infrastructure, and recent Democratic presidents devoted more of their political capital to major legislative lifts, such as the Affordable Care Act under Obama, than to judicial nominations, which were further obstructed by Senate Republicans.

Republicans have also united around a shared judicial philosophy of “originalism,” which promotes interpreting the Constitution according to the framers’ understanding at the time it was ratified. The theory, rejecting the handiwork of what conservatives call activist judges, has united that wing of the party since the Reagan administration.

Democrats have failed to come up with a compelling philosophical counterargument, said Georgetown law professor Victoria Nourse, choosing instead to emphasize the importance of identity and diversity in the judiciary.

“Democrats, as a group, need to come up with a countervailing theory that pushes back against a horse-and-buggy Constitution,” said Nourse, who worked for Biden when he was a senator and vice president.

When Justice Antonin Scalia, a father of originalism, died nearly nine months before the 2016 presidential election, the prospect of a Republican president filling that seat proved to be a potent motivator for evangelical voters to side with Trump, despite his multiple marriages and coarse personal style.

Those votes were crucial to Trump’s election. They made up more than a quarter of the electorate and 80% of them voted for Trump, according to exit polls. Those voters have largely stuck with Trump to this day.

“I have not talked to one person who voted for the president the last time that wasn’t willing to vote for him again,” said Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group. “But there certainly are some people left to get, people who didn’t vote in the last election, didn’t feel energized to vote.”

She described the court vacancy as “a big shot of adrenaline to the conservative base and particularly to conservative women.”

For Democrats, the court vacancy offers the chance to highlight a range of issues, beyond abortion, that could be affected by a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

There could be opportunity for Democrats to further motivate Black and Latino voters, given high-stakes court battles over voting rights and immigration. Furthermore, with the court set to hear arguments in the Trump administration’s bid to overturn the Affordable Care Act, the Biden campaign was quick to emphasize the implications on health care, hoping to steer the conversation back to the COVID-19 pandemic, where Trump is politically vulnerable.

“As we saw in the 2018 midterms, voters across the political spectrum are mobilized more than ever because they understand what’s at stake and that the next justice who goes on the court will decide whether or not they will still have protections for pre-existing conditions during a pandemic that has tragically killed nearly 200,000 Americans,” said Jamal Brown, national spokesman for the Biden campaign.

Former California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who says she feels a change in the air, speaks from firsthand experience. She was one of a record number of women elected to Congress in 1992 in a backlash after the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas and, in particular, the high-handed treatment Anita Hill received on Capitol Hill when she accused Thomas of sexual harassment (it was Biden, incidentally, who ran the Judiciary Committee hearings).

Boxer, who backs Biden, suggests a similar anger and sense of purpose will spur not just Democrats to the polls but progressive-leaning independents as well as Republican women who want to keep abortion legal.

“What does it take to fuel that kind of turnout?” Boxer said. “It goes back to emotion and caring. I think people felt that way about Anita Hill when they saw how she was treated, and they feel that way about Ruth Bader Ginsburg because they know Ruth was battling for them through thick and thin, including terrible bouts with cancer over and over again.”


Business
top story
COVID-19 effect starts to hit Milton Avenue retail corridor with permanent restaurant, store closures

JANESVILLE

Milton Avenue restaurant Mr. B’s opened just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down for retail and restaurant businesses.

After spending a few months in the dead of winter trying to carve out a reputation for barbecue and flavor-infused ice cream on the east side’s competitive restaurant strip, Mr. B’s found itself shifting into pandemic mode.

Mr. B’s has remained open continuously since the start of the pandemic, but management says the shop’s carryout and delivery business some days recently have outpaced the volume of in-store diners—a common recent trend for restaurants.

Kevin Brown manages the Janesville eatery at 1334 Milton Ave. that is housed in a formerly spotted cow-colored cheese shop. The place is getting by, Brown said, albeit amid a few staff cuts.

“We’re still trying to get our feet planted as a new business through all of this pandemic. We opened last year, but it feels like we’re still waiting and waiting to really do our big, public grand opening. Maybe later this fall we’ll be able to do that,” Brown said.

Mr. B’s might be weathering the pandemic (some lunch hours bring as few as nine or 10 customers) but a handful of other, longtime businesses on Milton Avenue and Humes Road have seen a dismal curtain fall during the summer and fall of COVID.

An inventory published this month by the city economic development office shows seven businesses on the city’s main commercial corridor—four restaurants and three retail stores—have recently closed permanently.

The list includes the following retail locations in Uptown Janesville, the former Janesville Mall at 2500 Milton Ave.:

  • Victoria’s Secret and Pink
  • Justice clothing store
  • Sprint phone store

Elsewhere on the Milton Avenue, the World Buffet, a large-format, family operated Chinese buffet restaurant, has closed. Along the Humes Road strip, the Potbelly restaurant and the Pier 1 Imports store have closed, according to the city’s inventory.

Gale Price, the city’s economic development director, said some of of the closures come as big chains like Victoria’s Secret work through massive, nationwide restructuring tied to debt or bankruptcies.

The continued pressure that online commerce exerts on brick-and-mortar retailers, a tectonic force in itself, has combined with the sea change COVID-19 has placed on consumer behavior.

That’s a one-two punch that has shown itself to be too strong for some retail and restaurant chains.

“Unfortunately, that list of store closures is probably going to get longer and longer as time goes on,” Price said.

The lowdown on Uptown

Price’s forecast comes as the city’s shopping mall, rebranded this summer by owner RockStep Capital as “Uptown Janesville,” has continued to lose retailers and food court tenants at a steady clip.

RockStep President Andy Weiner said the pandemic, which brought mandated closure of indoor shopping malls for two months, did not help.

The recent closure of four more mall retailers leaves Uptown Janesville’s concourse with nearly a baker’s dozen more dark stores compared to a year ago.

Weiner said the closure of lingerie seller Victoria’s Secret was surprising to him because he said the Janesville store sold “great volume.” But he said when RockStep had bought Uptown Janesville in 2018, the company had assumed some retailers would close—a trend he calls the “right-sizing” of both local and national retail market.

“We had kind of underwritten some closings and knew they were coming. Were there a couple of more because of COVID? Yes. Is it unfortunate? Yes. Is it a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing? Yes,” Weiner said.

Weiner said Uptown Janesville’s wave of retail departures has rolled out heavily over the last three years, but he called that trend “a situation that’s now in the seventh or eighth inning.”

The 600,000-square-foot Uptown Janesville is being re-envisioned as a real estate complex that could blend office, clinic and small warehousing use with traditional retail.

Yet, Weiner said the mall’s biggest prospects for revival remain tied to potential reuse of its hundreds of thousands of feet of vacant anchor store space that went defunct pre-pandemic, when the Boston Store and Sears stores closed in 2018 and 2019.

Weiner said RockStep continues to offer the city the former Sears property at no cost with the idea that its footprint could become home of a public-private hockey rink and indoor sports complex.

Weiner calls the Sears space a “$6 million, or $7 million, or $8 million” piece of real estate.

Weiner said RockStep continues to plan a separate family activity and entertainment center in the former Boston Store, but he said that project hinges on whether city and private stakeholders back a sports complex at Uptown Janesville.

But further planning and private fundraising for the planned hockey rink and sports complex remain on hold—probably until at least this fall, officials have said. That is largely because of economic uncertainty tied to the pandemic.

‘Coping mechanism’

At Mr. B’s, Brown said uncertainty has been mainly over how to staff a mom-and-pop restaurant with a significant amount of orders done on delivery. Early on in the pandemic, he said, the store cut back on employees, opting to send a few workers to Steve’s Deli Doghouse, a local sister company that Mr. B’s spun off from.

Brown said there are days when Mr. B’s has a dining room busy enough to support more workers, but on a recent Friday afternoon, he was the only employee in the place.

Some days, Brown indicated, the shop runs largely through curbside pickups and deliveries.

Brown said the restaurant has become well acquainted with a pair of third-party food delivery services, Eat Street being one.

Mr. B’s is in a distinctly different situation than chain retail franchises. It’s not tied to national marketing and sales strategies, and with a smaller scale and ties to a sister company, the restaurant can more quickly pivot in the uncharted territory that is the pandemic.

For instance, on days when delivery orders overflow, he said, Mr. B’s can draw off a delivery vehicle fleet and employees at Steve’s Deli Doghouse, Brown said.

Others have been unable to keep their heads up.

During the start of the pandemic, restaurant chain Potbelly had received a $10 million federal bailout package geared for small businesses.

Potbelly returned that cash after a public outcry over a large chain with hundreds of locations being granted funding that was intended for smaller, mom-and-pop businesses.

Shortly afterward, Potbelly announced plans to lay off one-third of its workforce and eventually shutter at least 100 struggling stores.

Janesville’s Milton Avenue location has remained closed through the spring and summer weeks of the pandemic. Last month, the Potbelly closed permanently, apparently.

Potbelly’s public relations office did not respond to inquiries by The Gazette, but the eatery has a sign on the door that indicates the Janesville location is closed.

The most recent corporate communication is a Sept. 10 post on the Potbelly’s company Twitter feed that reads:

“When you go through a period of prolonged stress, sometimes you become numb. Odds are you’re not feeling apathetic and exhausted because you don’t care. Your body is trying to protect from a threat it perceives—it’s a coping mechanism,” Potbelly’s tweet reads.

This report has been modified from an earlier version that listed a Sbarro restaurant at 2500 Milton Avenue as being recently closed, according to a city of Janesville inventory of recent retail closures. Sbarro was closed previously.


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 21, 2020

Rodney Dale Barnes

Wallace A. Brown

Dale D. Fitzmaurice

Cynthia S. Fleck

Diane Lynn Forster

Richard “Rick” Huhn

Theodore “Ted” Kobelt

Dennis J. Kramer

Lawrence H. “Larry” Litza

Richard R. “Dick” McLernon

David Erving Ovans

Donna K. Wagner