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Rock County sees largest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since May

Eighteen people are hospitalized in Rock County with COVID-19, the most in a single day since May 28.

The number of hospitalizations has steadily increased since late August, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

Data compiled last week shows Rock County hospitals had 65% of intensive care unit beds available, 74% of ventilators available and 67% of medical/surgical beds available.

It is unknown publicly how this week’s numbers will affect those resources.

The county has 622 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 181.45% increase from Sept. 1, when there were 221 cases.

Since March, the county has had 2,601 confirmed cases and 32 deaths. Of all who have been infected, 8% have been hospitalized, according to county data.

Eighteen percent of test results returned Tuesday were positive. The positivity rates Sunday and Monday were 38% and 6%, respectively.

The county’s goal is to have a 5% or less positivity rate over a 14-day average. As of Sept. 22, the 14-day average was 10.29%.

State officials are pleading with residents to take precautions as infections continue to climb statewide.

The state has tacked on more than 2,000 new cases per day in eight of the past 14 days, including 2,367 new cases reported Tuesday, according to state data.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Wisconsin was 2,232 as of Monday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For context, Illinois’ seven-day rolling average of new cases was 2,027, about 200 fewer than Wisconsin. Illinois’ population is 117.64% larger than Wisconsin’s population, according to the Census Bureau.

Minnesota’s seven-day rolling average was 888—1,344 fewer than Wisconsin’s—as of Monday. Minnesota’s population is comparable to Wisconsin’s, about 3.14% smaller.

Local health departments across the state are struggling to keep up with contact tracing, said Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief health officer and epidemiologist, in a media briefing Tuesday.

Rock County data shows contact tracers are able to reach 41% of close contacts within 48 hours.

The county’s goal is to reach 75% of contacts within 48 hours.

“We are in crisis right now,” Westergaard said.

Young people ages 18 to 24 accounted for the largest increases in new cases across the state throughout September, but that age group is slowing as other groups pull ahead, said Andrea Palm, secretary of the state’s health department.

In Rock County, 22% of COVID-19 cases have been in people ages 15 to 25, a number that has increased in recent weeks.

People ages 25 to 34 have the next highest percentage of cases at 17%, according to county data.

Gov. Tony Evers blamed President Donald Trump and Republican leaders who have challenged his efforts to slow the virus by downplaying its severity, according to The Associated Press.

Republican lawmakers have challenged Evers’ statewide mask mandate and brought legal action in May over his safer-at-home order, limiting the governor’s power in issuing public health orders.

Meanwhile, restrictions in some Illinois counties are tightening because of increasing COVID-19 cases.

As of Oct. 3, bars and restaurants will not be allowed to offer indoor dining or indoor dancing in counties directly south of Rock County, including Winnebago and Boone.

Rock County recommends businesses remain open at 50% capacity, but the county does not have the legal authority to enforce the recommendation.

Kelly Fanning paints a large sun at the beginning of the new Born Learning Trail that was installed by United Way Blackhawk Region volunteers in Janesville’s Bond Park on Tuesday.

A volunteer paints the letter ‘A’ near one of the 10 colorful signs on the Born Learning Trail in Janesville’s Bond Park on Tuesday.

Debate anger: Biden tells interrupting Trump, 'Shut up, man'


Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, city violence, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

In what was the most chaotic presidential debate in recent memory, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning—whether on his taxes or the pandemic—to deliver broadsides against Biden.

The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop interrupting. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Wallace mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”

“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The president also refused anew to embrace the science of climate change.

As the conversation moved to race, Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. And Biden said there is systemic racist injustice in this country and while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.

Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order” out of fear of alienating the left.

“Violence is never appropriate,” Biden said. “Peaceful protest is.”

With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls—significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states—and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.

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Janesville Foundation grant could help city schools tackle early literacy


A new grant could inject momentum into efforts to boost literacy in the Janesville School District.

The Janesville School Board last week unanimously approved applying for the early literacy grant, which would give the school district $300,000 to try to lift stagnant literacy numbers among third-graders.

The three-year grant is through the Janesville Foundation, a funding nonprofit that shares donated money for community projects.

At the Sept. 22 school board meeting, Superintendent Steve Pophal gave a presentation on the district’s promises, which showed the district is far behind on its goal of having 90% of third-graders reading at the appropriate level by 2022.

“Basically, the result is fairly flat here, and we’re not going up or going down,” Pophal told the board. “We’re not making progress toward that target that is so important.

“We know what the research says when a kid can read proficiently by the end of third grade and the implications that has for them. ... It just is very predictive, better or worse, of a lot of things that come down the pipeline,” Pophal said.

By the end of this school year, the district hopes to increase the percentage of third-graders able to read at or above their grade level to 59%. Around 58% of students met that criteria in 2018-19, and the 2019-20 data is incomplete because of school closures.

“With our promise of 90% of our students reading at grade level, we know we have a lot of work to do. We feel that this work will help continue to move that promise forward,” said Allison DeGraaf, director of learning and innovation for the district, in a presentation on the grant.

The grant could help pay for several initiatives.

  • The Imagination Library gives about 1,400 kids a book each month from birth until kindergarten. Another 120 children are on a waiting list. With the help of the grant, that list would be empty.
  • The district could hire an early literacy coordinator, who would implement and evaluate early literacy initiatives in the community and would work with the district and community partners to improve early literacy numbers.
  • The grant could support “Basic Insights,” an initiative through Harvard University that gives families two text messages a week that suggest developmental skills their children could work on and offer activities to further those skills.
  • The district could screen the documentary “No Small Matter,” which highlights concerns and ways to prevent problems in early childhood education.
  • The grant could help pay for reading incentives. One is the sibling book bag, which gives students in second and third grades who have younger siblings a bag of books and rewards them for reading with their younger siblings.

“What the research has found is the sibling spillover effect,” DeGraaf said. “Not only is the younger child learning language and vocabulary development, but the sibling that’s in school, they’ve actually found ... are actually making more gains in their fluency skills than students who are not taking home the book bag.”

Overall, district officials hope the grant will continue to help them increase early literacy levels. Officials have estimated spending about $135,000 in year one of the grant and another $123,000 in year two.

“We want to reach out to the community. We want to try this ... because we know that the early literacy work is critical in our community, whether it’s helping with the economic opportunities, closing achievement gaps or student success, and so we want to look at all of the community resources,” DeGraaf said.

School board member Dale Thompson said he hopes that grant money is used to emphasize outreach to minority families.

Board President Steve Huth said he was impressed after hearing how the grant would be used.

“We’re very fortunate that we were approached by community members who would like this to move forward,” Huth said. “We all know the impact this has on the workforce and long term impact for employability, so it’s an excellent, excellent grant application.”