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Bryan Wegter 

Edgerton’s Clayton Jenny, right, protects the ball from Turner’s D.J. Wash during the second half of a WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinal Thursday, March 7, 2019, at Janesville Craig High.


Area schools, universities taking preventive measures

Area schools, colleges and universities took steps to protect students and families from the coronavirus Wednesday by announcing campus closures, postponing travel and sending out email updates.

The Janesville School District asked Washington Seminar students to monitor their health in response to the spread of the coronavirus elsewhere in the country.

A group of 25 high school students returned from Washington, D.C., on Feb. 29 after meeting with lawmakers and doing research. Five chaperones accompanied them.

“While several students did go to Georgetown during the trip to conduct interviews, none of the students/staff had any direct contact with the Rev. Timothy Cole nor at any time went inside Christ Church in Georgetown,” Patrick Gasper, the district’s public information officer, wrote in a news release.

Cole is pastor of Christ Church Episcopal Church in Georgetown. He has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and public health officials have asked the congregation to self-quarantine.

The Janesville district heard about concerns over the Washington Seminar students’ exposure Tuesday, Gasper said. Since the students returned, they are already 11 days into the 14-day observation period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“After consultation with the Rock County Health Department, and because the risk of potential exposure to the students was extremely low, they were contacted by the school administration but not asked to self-quarantine,” Gasper wrote.

The students were asked to monitor their health through this weekend, and parents were informed.

Meanwhile, the Milton School District is postponing out-of-state travel and asking students to take home their district-issued laptops and tablets every day.

In a Wednesday letter to parents, Superintendent Rich Dahman said the Rock County Public Health Department and state Division of Public Health think the risk of infection is low here.

“However, experts agree that following spring break travel, it is likely COVID-19 will spread further throughout our nation,” Dahman wrote. “We are asking parents to prepare for possible closures in the coming weeks and months.”

Blackhawk Technical College, which is on spring break this week, announced it is canceling classes Monday and Tuesday, March 16-17, and will hold online classes starting Wednesday, March 18.

Only employees need to report on those two days to meet with their departments and arrange to move coursework online, according to a news release.

Faculty will share instructions with students through BTC’s learning management system, Blackboard, and BTC email accounts, the release states.

Beloit College announced Wednesday it will close its campus until March 30 and hold classes online after spring break, which is being extended by one week.

Classes will resume March 23 and will be held online that week. Students will be able to return to campus at 5 p.m. March 28, according to the release.

All campus events are canceled through March 30, the college said.

UW-Madison officials announced Wednesday they will suspend face-to-face instruction after spring break and students shouldn’t return to the campus because of fears of spreading the coronavirus.

UW-Madison’s spring break begins Saturday and runs through March 22. Face-to-face instruction will end March 23, the date classes are scheduled to resume. The suspension will last until at least April 10, when university officials will reassess the situation. Students will be able to complete coursework remotely until face-to-face instruction resumes.

A host of universities around the country have already taken similar measures, including Ohio State. UW-Milwaukee announced Tuesday it was extending its spring break to a second week, to run through March 29, and planned to move most classes online once students return.

UW-Whitewater officials have not yet closed the campus or altered spring break, which runs March 23-27.

However, in an announcement Wednesday, UW-W Chancellor Dwight Watson advised students to take instructional materials, medications and other necessary items with them for spring break in case the university chooses to postpone classes or offer online instruction.

Watson urged students to reconsider travel plans, saying he has canceled a personal trip to Florida as “a precautionary measure and so that I can be on campus during this critical time.”

Health officials say they are still learning about the coronavirus and COVID-19. It’s a respiratory infection that causes coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever and other symptoms.

Six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Wisconsin: two in Dane County, two in Fond du Lac County, one in Waukesha County and one in Pierce County. Fifty-three tests have come back negative.

One of the infected Dane County patients has recovered.

The Rock County Public Health Department is not aware of any tests administered in Rock County, said epidemiologist Nick Zupan.

Tests, if given, would be submitted to one of two state health labs by a health care provider, and results would be shared with the health department, Zupan said.

Looser testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given health care providers more freedom to test and will lead to more tests being sent to the state, Zupan said.

Wisconsin has not seen evidence of community spread, meaning people spreading the virus within the state. All positive cases have come from people who traveled, according to the state health department.

Here are additional details about area institutions’ plans to deal with the virus:

Janesville School District: All schools are in the process of installing additional hand-sanitizing stations in various locations, particularly near cafeterias and lunchrooms, Gasper said.

Beloit College: Some classes at Beloit College might continue online after March 30, the college said in its news release.

The college is working with students who cannot delay their return to campus, and accommodations are being made on a case-by-case basis.

Beloit students who are studying abroad are not being asked to return home. The college is working with its study abroad partners and monitoring travel information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, according to the release.

UW-Whitewater: As of Wednesday, the university is not aware of any UW-W students who have been tested for COVID-19, spokesman Jeff Angileri wrote in an email.

Students who live on campus and do not have other places to go will be assisted by university housing staff if UW-W chooses to close the campus, Watson, the chancellor, said in his announcement.

Faculty and staff will have access to campus if courses are moved online, but students will not, Watson said.

The university has canceled one upcoming study trip to South Korea, which affected one Whitewater student, Angileri said. No UW-W students are studying in countries with travel advisories.

The university will launch a COVID-19 call-in line today. A listening session will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday, March 19, in the Old Main Ballroom at the University Center. University health officials will be available to answer questions.

The listening session will be live-streamed on the university’s Facebook page.

Gazette reporter Catherine W. Idzerda and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Coronavirus
Local businesses big and small see impacts of coronavirus

JANESVILLE

Stock and checkout clerks at two Walgreens pharmacy stores in Janesville said it likely will be the end of this week before their shops see delivery of more hand sanitizer.

For anyone looking for a personal supply of alcohol gel disinfectant, the two pharmacies and about a dozen other stores The Gazette visited Wednesday wouldn’t have been a help. The hand-sanitizer prognosis, for now: sold out.

The nearest confirmed COVID-19 virus cases in Wisconsin might remain one county away, but the global economic impacts of the viral outbreak are hitting Janesville businesses in big and small ways.

While hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes and even toilet paper are becoming short in supply at some stores, other local retailers who rely on shipments of goods made in China are watching their shelves empty as cargo ships remain in quarantine in international customs.

‘Pretty bare’

Staci Powell owns and operates Angry Fox, a small Asian pop-culture toy and collectibles shop at the Janesville Mall. Powell knew something major was amiss in late December. She suspected something even before national media outlets began reporting COVID-19, the new strain of coronavirus, was having major—and deadly—impacts in China, Asia and then in parts of Europe.

Powell said late last year, she abruptly stopped getting shipments from suppliers and Chinese factory producers that send her nearly all the anime and Asian pop-culture products she sells. A few weeks later, she learned why.

“A little bit after Christmas, one of my contacts said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna start to see some slowdowns. We’re not sure what’s going on, but people in China have been getting really sick through the strain of the flu that’s particularly nasty going around.’

“Yeah, well, turns out two weeks later, everybody caught up, the world news caught up,” Powell said.

Powell’s small, independent shop now could wait weeks for deliveries as customs and port authorities work through backlogs of quarantined durable goods made or shipped through Chinese ports.

It has been weeks since Powell has seen shipments of some of her most popular plush toys, action figures, key chains and other items—and it could be weeks more before the backlog clears and small shops such as hers see their slice of inventory.

Powell said some of her shelves are “looking pretty bare,” and she said she’s not sure when that could change. She’s gotten some word that Chinese factories that had shuttered because of coronavirus are now reopening. But some shipments she’s already paid for sat in port authority for so long Powell said they were “returned to sender.” Powell said she could end up paying twice for shipments of goods from China.

Powell said a major Anime conference she planned to attend as a vendor in Seattle, Washington, was cancelled recently as state and local governments in Washington respond to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak there.

Powell realizes her woes are just one slice of the impact the global coronavirus outbreak is having on the web of commerce in Janesville.

“When stuff like this happens, small companies like mine are usually some of the first to feel it,” she said. “But I think the real trouble because of the extent of this is going to be stuff like medical supplies and electronic boards for new medical equipment. Things people might really, really need.”

Plants closed

Janesville-based Prent has imposed its own company travel ban on its business flights to regions of Asia considered COVID-19 hot zones. Prent, a plastics thermoforming company that makes medical product packaging, has two manufacturing plants in the Jiading District of China, a booming suburb of Shanghai.

Although both of Prent’s plants are 600 miles from the region considered the epicenter of China’s initial outbreak of COVID-19, it weathered a weeks-long closure of both plants as the Chinese government sought to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Prent President Joe Pregont said the closures have since ended. The shutdowns were imposed by the Chinese government, as were a new set of protocols Chinese health officials enacted to screen his China plant workers daily for any sign of coronavirus.

Pregont said his company, a clean-room operation that does more than 90% of its business in medical supply packaging, has seen stepped-up health measures during other international flu and disease outbreaks. He said the COVID-19 outbreak was the first time he’s aware of that China had government health officials stationed at his plant’s gates with special thermometers to test workers as they walked on and off shifts.

“After the shutdown (ended), everyone had their temperature taken before they could come back into the buildings. Anybody with a temperature was sent to the medical clinics or hospital. We have close to 500 people in China, and no one came down with the virus,” Pregont said.

Pregont said Prent has taken stock of the Chinese government response and has the same protocols ready at its Janesville plant in case a COVID-19 outbreak in Wisconsin reaches Rock County.

Pregont said because his company produces hi-tech and medical-related products, his plant was considered a high priority in China’s schedule to reopen. Of all the 2,000 plant shutdowns in the region where Prent is located, the company’s plants were among the first 30 allowed to be reopened.

As the number of confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19 continues to increase daily, national economists expect there could be months of impact to the national economy, although it might not all be felt at once.

Pregont said because his company serves a medical sector more resistant to economic volatility he thinks Prent won’t see the same degree of impact from COVID-19 as other industries.

He believes industries such as restaurants, niche retail and travel industry—particularly airlines—could see “deep trouble” in coming months.

“A lot of the elective (discretionary spending) stuff that people do is being affected. And I think it’s going to really show up when you step back and look at the year as a whole,” Pregont said.

Pregont is a board member of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s main manufacturing and industry trade group. He said the trade group already has put together a survey it’s distributing to industries statewide so the group can start to gauge the impacts COVID-19 is having on different industries.

Travel woes

Amanda Sullivan, a travel consultant for All Ways Travel, said her agency books a high volume of international cruises through more than a dozen cruise ship companies.

The cancellations started coming as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending early this week that people, especially the elderly or immune compromised, avoid traveling by cruise ship.

This week, All Ways has been dealing with around-the-clock cancellations of cruises booked to coastal cities in China and Italy designated as having a high risk of COVID-19 infection.

Customers are now looking to reschedule trips to a time when COVID-19 and the threat of its spread are diminished.

International cruise line companies are now working with customers to migrate canceled cruise bookings to later this year or next year without customers losing upfront investments on cruises they have canceled.

Sullivan said that’s a new measure for the cruise liner industry, but it comes after a number of cruise ships have been moored off the coast of the U.S. and other countries under quarantine because large blocs of passengers fell ill with COVID-19.

President Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday night to suspend travel to the U.S. from 26 European countries for 30 days starting late Friday night.

For additional stories and information, visit GazetteXtra.com/coronavirus.


Obituaries and death notices for March 12, 2020

Etta Mae Geier Gray

Jeff Hassinger

Corwin E. “Cork” Hilton

Leona Mildred Jones

Daniel R. LaBonne

Gerald C. “Jerry” Larsen

Richard “Dick” McNally

Ronald “Suds” Schober


Government
top story
Future unclear for Janesville's overnight parking ordinance

JANESVILLE

The future of overnight parking in Janesville is unclear with city council members split on how to address the issue. 

An amendment to Janesville's overnight parking ordinance allowing people to park and sleep overnight in the municipal parking lot on Jackson Street will expire March 31. 

The city council has only its March 23 meeting scheduled before March 31, leaving limited opportunity to make a decision.

The council in July amended the overnight parking ordinance to allow people to park overnight in the North Traxler Boat Launch parking lot through October 31.

The council in October moved the designation to the Jackson Street parking lot and extended the amendment to March 31.

City staff presented the following options to the council Monday night:

  • Repeal the ordinance prohibiting overnight parking, making it legal for people to park and sleep in their cars overnight on any city street or lot.
  • Designate a permanent overnight parking lot. 
  • Extend the overnight parking lot program without changes until a permanent decision is made. 
  • Do nothing and allow the amendment to expire, making it illegal for anyone to park and sleep overnight on city streets and lots.

City staff did not offer a recommendation but likely will in the future based on direction from the council Monday.

Council members Paul Benson, Sue Conley, Doug Marklein and Jim Farrell said they would like to see the issue return to the council for discussion at the next meeting. 

Council President Richard Gruber said he thinks the council needs to take its time making a decision. Conley agreed the council should take time but should make at least a temporary decision soon to prevent a gap in service.

Gruber feared the council would be rushed to judgement if it made a decision this month and would risk making a decision that was not best for the community.

To make a decision at the March 23 meeting, the council would have to waive its policy of having a first reading of the ordinance before discussion and a vote, said Maggie Darr, assistant to the city manager.

Council member Paul Williams said he would not agree with waiving a first reading and wanted to give members of the public more time to voice opinions.

The number of overnight parking users decreased when the designation was moved from North Traxler Park to Jackson Street. The move happened in late fall as temperatures began to drop.

An average of 0.48 vehicles used the Jackson Street lot between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15. The most cars parked in one night was four and the fewest was zero, Darr said.

About four people used the Traxler Park lot per night in the summer and fall. 

Darr speculated as to why the numbers decreased: Cold weather, proximity to the police station, visibility and confusion over location might be why fewer people use the Jackson Street lot than the former Traxler Park.

Council member Tom Wolfe was reluctant to base decisions on reasons Darr provided that he said could not be proven.

Wolfe and Williams said they think the way the Jackson Street lot works now is fine and should become the permanent solution. Changes could be amended later. 

Benson, Farrell, Conley and Marklein said they would be comfortable making some kind of action at the next meeting. 

"I want to see action rather than let it sunset in the dark," Benson said. 

Conley and Marklein said they would like to see the council give the amendment another extension so the council can have more detailed discussions on the bigger picture. 

Marklein floated the idea of making it legal for people to park overnight in any public parking lot but prohibit overnight parking on public streets. Conley said she would support that. 

"This has been successful, and we have impacted lives," Conley said. "... we need to think thoughtfully about a permanent solution so we can move forward and provide a service to the community."