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Rock County declines to identify facility with COVID-19 cases, per facility director's request

Rock County officials are keeping secret the identity of the nursing facility that has a resident and a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 at the request of the facility’s medical director, according to a county spokeswoman.

The medical director for the facility asked the health department not to disclose the name of the facility “as it would cause undue stress to the residents,” Rock County Public Health Department public information officer Kelsey Cordova said in an email to The Gazette.

The county said the resident and the employee of the community-based residential facility tested positive in a Thursday news release.

Cordova did not respond to a question from The Gazette about whether loved ones of other residents living in the facility have been notified.

The health department is in the process of alerting people who have been in contact with the infected individuals, Cordova said.

The resident has been hospitalized and the employee is at home in isolation, according to the Thursday release.

Health department officials declined to be more specific about what kind of facility the community-based residential facility is or how many people live there.

The health department also will not say which municipality in Rock County the facility is located, per the request of the facility’s medical director, Cordova said.

The individuals tested positive Saturday and Tuesday. The health department was made aware of the link to the facility Wednesday and shared it with the public Thursday, Cordova said.

There are 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County. One person has died.

People infected in Rock County range from 25 to 85 years old. The average age of those with confirmed cases in the county is 58, according to a news release from the health department.

Gender identification of people infected in Rock County is split evenly, according to the release.

Officials estimate there are 10 people infected for every positive case in the community.

There are 1,916 confirmed cases statewide, and 37 Wisconsinites have died.

Retooling for pandemic: Local crafters, quilters go to work on masks


If you stand perfectly still, you might be able to hear it: The rhythmic hum and click of sewing machines running across yards and yards of fabric.

In the face of the new coronavirus, people across the county have retooled their sewing machines and set aside their quilting and crafts to create cloth masks for essential workers.

They all say the same thing: “I had to do something.”

They include people such as Cecelia Conway, who started by making masks for employees at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse and is now making them for others, and her friend Linda Nunley, whose husband is an essential worker for UPS and whose sister is a police officer.

They include Jenny Keeney Wimmer, a nurse practitioner who started making masks and is now making scrub caps for other nurses she knows.

And they include Brie Maldonado-Cruz, a former Janesville resident who now lives in Illinois but delivered masks to the Delavan nursing home where her grandmother lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday that people wear masks or cloth coverings over their mouths and noses when out in public—especially in virus hot spots—to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The most organized mask-making effort is through the United Way Blackhawk Region.

That effort started last week, when United Way board member Jen White was talking to her boss at Data Dimensions about ways they could help.

White pointed out that the United Way was the place people and organizations went to get help—and the place people went when they wanted to help others. The spot in the middle of those two extremes would be just right.

White knew, too, that many of the United Way’s nonprofits were run by essential workers. GIFTS Men’s Shelter, HealthNet of Rock County and the House of Mercy are still operating, and staffers need masks to help reduce their risk of infection.

She put out a request on the United Way’s volunteer website for fabric cutters, sewers, assemblers, deliverers, washers and packagers, and donations of 100% cotton or poly-blend fabric.

Quilters donated piles of fabric from their stashes. Experienced sewers flipped the switch on their sewing machines, depressed the black pedals with their feet and sewed like somebody else’s life depended on it.

Terry Brooks, a former Marine, made deliveries, dropping off finished masks and picking up fabric from one person’s porch and delivering it to another.

Jeanine Wirth took charge of washing and packaging masks. After her drying rack was full, she strung up temporary drying lines.

After the nonprofits got their masks, the group started to get requests from others, including the city of Janesville, which wanted some for poll workers.

White stressed that the cloth masks are not the kind that health care workers need.

They can’t protect people from getting the virus, but they might help slow the spread.

Because of the national shortage of medical-grade masks, the CDC asks that people reserve those masks for health care workers.

Most mask-making volunteers didn’t want to talk about their work, as if their voices didn’t matter when so much was at stake.

For people such as Nunley, whose husband works for UPS and has contact with people every day, the pandemic is a source of anxiety. Making masks is a way to cope.

“It gives me some control over the situation,” Nunley said. “It’s not an N95 mask, but it will help.”

Dave and Sue Halbach join a neighborhood singalong in Whitewater.

UW-Whitewater professor donates third ambulance


Six years ago, Hassimi Traore fulfilled a life-long dream by purchasing an ambulance and sending it home to Burkina Faso to be the first ambulance in the country’s history.

The motivation came from watching his best friend die after a car-versus-moped crash when he was 12 years old in the landlocked West African country north of Ghana.

Helpless bystanders had no way to transport him five hours to a hospital.

Traore, a UW-Whitewater chemistry professor, donated his first ambulance in 2014 and a second in 2019 and secured a third one in March. Traore said he would have full ownership of the most recent ambulance by May.

Though it will take months for the ambulance to make it from Whitewater to Baltimore to Ghana and then Burkina Faso, the thought of positively influencing a part of the world in the midst of a seven-year war and now the COVID-19 pandemic brings a smile to the faces of Traore and his daughter, Myriama Smith-Traore.

“My dad is always a very positive person. At first, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool,’ but it’s not the first time,” said Smith-Traore, who graduated from Whitewater High School in 2017 and is a redshirt sophomore for the St. Louis University women’s basketball team. “I was talking to my friends about it, and they were overjoyed for us. And I realized not everyone was used to the positivity that pours out of my dad all the time.”

Each of the first two ambulances are proving valuable for the nation situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

“In fact, right now, because of the situation with COVID-19, they’ve both been very useful,” Traore said.

While COVID-19 was slow to spread to Africa, the disease has established a foothold and is having an especially negative impact on Burkina Faso. In the six countries surrounding Burkina Faso, 12 people reportedly have died, and 370 have been infected. In Burkina Faso, 12 have died and 246 had been infected as of Monday afternoon.

Burkina Faso already was the most impoverished nation in the region before war consumed the country of 19.9 million people and left it more vulnerable to the pandemic.

The vulnerabilities of living in Burkina Faso are nothing new to Hassimi. He has lived with that reality his entire life, and that has driven him to send medical supplies and clothing to his native land throughout his time in the United States.

When asked to offer perspective, Traore recalled classroom sizes of 80 students with as many as 70 of them not having enough food on a regular basis throughout childhood. Traore also stocks up on basic medical supplies to send to the country.

“When I go to the clinic right now (in Wisconsin), I can get Band-Aids or aspirin, but over there, it’s really difficult to get those things there,” Traore said.

Traore took a group of UW-Whitewater students to Burkina Faso when he delivered the first ambulance in 2014. On that trip, the group visited a hospital and, Traore said, the sight of the operating room was enough to bring tears to the students’ eyes.

All of these circumstances have made a lasting impact on his family.

“I don’t like to waste things. I’m always thinking about how I can reuse things I have,” Smith-Traore said. “When I was moving out of my apartment in St. Louis (after campus shut down), my roommate gave me a bunch of extra shoes and clothes.”

Since sending the first ambulance six years ago, Hassimi has founded a nonprofit organization specifically to help widows and children. He was motivated to start the foundation because he was raised by a widow and has firsthand experience of the value of a $20 regular contribution from a couple in Canada. The purpose of the nonprofit is to help connect people who want to help with people who need help.

Delivering the first ambulance was his way of paying tribute to his late childhood friend. After seeing the impact that donation had, he was driven to continue to pay it forward.

“When I got the first one, I didn’t think about how much it would change people’s lives; I was doing it because of my experience,” Traore said. “I received letters from pastors or priests that said it touched them so much. I realized it was really something important.

“When I went home, I received a call from someone telling me how their life had been saved and how great it was to have an ambulance to save more lives.”

Obituaries and death notices for April 4, 2020

Joyce E. Davis

Mark W. Myers

Doris B. Schwartzlow