As Rock County grapples with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, local businesses and organizations are weighing their options when it comes to protecting employees and the public.
In light of new masking recommendations, many establishments have responding by implementing their own rules. National chains such as Target are requiring customers to wear masks, while locally owned businesses have taken a more nuanced approach.
Many restaurants are grappling with a return to restrictions, as previous policies affected several aspects of their business, including the menu and how many dine-in customers there could be at a time.
Angela Collas, owner of 29 S. Cafe, 29 S. Main St., said she is basing her decisions on the science and plans to follow CDC guidelines. While she currently does not require masks, that is subject to change depending on public health recommendations.
In the event Collas does reinstate COVID-19 measures, she is not worried about pushback from her patrons.
“We have the most wonderful clientele here,” she said. “Our customers are good, good people.”
At the YMCA of Northern Rock County, 221 Dodge St., coronavirus precautions have largely remained intact. During the peak of the outbreak in the winter, several programs had limited capacities, classes were moved outdoors and virtual options were available. Children’s programs also were limited in size, a practice that carried over when restrictions were relaxed.
Leah Kluge, the organization’s membership and marketing director, says there are currently no policies in place requiring masks of either employees or members. For the time being, the YMCA is taking a wait-and-see approach on restrictions, Kluge said.
“We try to follow whatever the health department does,” she said. “Right now, we are just kind of holding tight.”
Some businesses have already reinstated mask requirements and are exploring other preventive options. Janesville-based Grainger Industrial Supply, 401 S. Wright Road, which employs more than 1,000 people in Wisconsin, recently updated its coronavirus-related safety protocols as a result of Rock County’s elevated risk status.
Grainger is requiring all employees to mask up in common areas and when moving about in the facilities, Grainger’s Media Relations and Social Media Manager Veronica Chaidez said. Additionally, masks are required during meetings in conference rooms and private offices.
Another adjustment the company is considering is an option for employees to work remotely. At the onset of the pandemic, the office shifted to remote work to cut back on in-person encounters. In the event of a new serious outbreak, this could be revisited to ensure the safety of the employees and the public.
For now, coronavirus-related recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the county health department remain in flux. A report of 50 new cases Thursday, Aug. 5 could put a hold on emerging from such restrictions.
Rock County Health Officer Katrina Harwood said residents should be diligent in protecting themselves and others around them.
“We are still all in this pandemic together. The more people wear masks, the more likely we’ll get cases back to a manageable level,” she said.
“I know the pandemic has been called a pandemic of the unvaccinated; however, it is still a pandemic that impacts all of us—whether or not we are vaccinated,” Harwood said.
SHINE Medical Technologies continues to make progress toward becoming a fully functioning manufacturer. Friday, it hosted Janesville leaders to a grand opening of its corporate headquarters on its campus on the city’s south side.
SHINE plans to become one of the few producers of radioisotopes for use in medical treatments and diagnosis. About 200 employees—many of whom had never met face-to-face because pandemic constraints kept them working at home—moved into the new headquarters office building Aug. 2.
“When you’re trying to do something this complicated and this hard, having people face-to-face again is tremendously helpful,” SHINE founder and CEO Greg Piefer said.
Piefer later told reporters that SHINE’s manufacturing process is uniquely complicated.
“No one’s ever built anything like this before, and you try and put all the details into a real thing, you just miss stuff. You can draw it out on paper, you can even make CAD (computer-assisted design) models, and when you build it in the field, it doesn’t quite look the way it’s supposed to or doesn’t quite perform the way it was supposed to, and so you have to adapt to that, real-time, and that takes a tremendous amount of effort,” Piefer said.
The work also includes managing suppliers who are making first-of-its-kind equipment for the project, he said.
“It really just requires people to put in a lot of hours and a lot of high mental-capacity hours, which can be quite draining,” Piefer said, adding that it’s good to give workers a nice environment.
SHINE has been leasing office space in downtown Janesville buildings. Those offices have now been vacated, Piefer said.
No one was seen wearing a mask in the building during the grand opening. The county health department recommended July 30 that people return to wearing masks in indoor public spaces because of an uptick in COVID-19 infections.
“We support those who wish to wear a mask but don’t require them,” company spokesman Rod Hise said.
City government, law enforcement and officials of private groups attended the ceremony and toured the new facility, much of it a vast sea of low-walled cubicles with big windows on three sides of the single-story, 35,000-square-foot building.
The cubicles, all in the same room, appear to be roughly the same size. The space is designed to encourage communication and creativity, Piefer said. Executive offices were behind walls with doors that opened onto the main floor.
Piefer said the open space “represents the transparent culture we like to have here.”
That transparency includes SHINE’s relations with city government and the community, Piefer said.
The building, built by J.H. Findorff & Son at a cost of about $10 million, boasts a small lunch room and a modest physical exercise room.
Piefer thanked Findorf and T5 Real Estate Solutions, which financed the construction.
The headquarters features large windows facing the still-being-built manufacturing facility, a massive, concrete structure that juts out of the prairie between Highway 51 South and the Dollar General warehousing operation.
The manufacturing building is where SHINE plans to make Molybdenum-99, an isotope used in medicine the world over. It is slated to begin making test batches in fall 2022.
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to make Molly-99 is still pending, and SHINE must still help its customers clear regulatory hurdles with agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, Piefer said.
SHINE has been taking shape since before 2012, when the city council approved $5 million in incentives and agreed to guarantee private loans of $4 million. That year, officials hoped to start production by 2015.
The city has added incentives along the way, including tax incremental financing. Piefer praised the support from city taxpayers and the community.
“I know it’s been a long road, and we still have a lot of work to do,” Piefer told his guests Friday.
Gale Price, the city’s economic development director, said the city council’s decision in 2012 was about taking a risk on “the prospect of Janesville being the North American, if not world, hub of medical isotope production and research (that) could make all the difference in the world for the future of this community.”
Dignitaries attending included local law enforcement, city officials and Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, a member of the SHINE board of directors.
SHINE is already producing a different isotope, lutetium-177, used in cancer treatments, at a separate building. A breezeway connects the small production building to the new office building.
Piefer said the company’s payroll is about 350, after a merger in April with Fitchburg-based Phoenix LLC.
About 80 more employees will be needed to run the Molly-99 production facility on a 24/7 basis, he said.
Thomas E. Brower
Robert Anton “Bob” Bruketa
Lester Allen “Buzz” Dutcher
Joyce C. (Koster) Hubred
Randall E. Lund
Cindy Lou Valdez
Douglas C. Waddell
Former School District of Beloit Interim Superintendent Darrell Williams announced Friday his candidacy for U.S. Senate, joining six other Democrats hoping to win Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat.
Other Democrats in the running are Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Wausau radiologist Gillian Battino and Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis.
Gov. Tony Evers appointed Williams as the administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management on July 15, 2019. A campaign video came after Williams’ announcement.
Williams could not be reached for comment by press time.
Williams was named School District of Beloit interim superintendent in November 2017 when Superintendent Tom Johnson resigned because of serious health problems. Williams had previously worked as assistant superintendent of administration, operations and equity in the district.
In July 2018, the Beloit School Board selected Donald Childs to replace Williams as interim superintendent. Some with the NAACP and other residents had raised concerns, noting Williams had already been serving in the interim superintendent position since Johnson’s resignation. Childs resigned in April 2019, prior to his originally scheduled departure date in July.
In addition to Williams’ civilian career, he served for 29 years in the U.S. Army, which included combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He earned several decorations for his military service, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Prior to working in Beloit, Williams worked as a principal in Milwaukee Public Schools and as a teacher and school administrator for more than 25 years. In 2013, he was recognized by the National Alliance of Black School Educators as the 2013 National Principal of the Year.
In his work as an administrator for Wisconsin Emergency Management, Williams was responsible for the planning, preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery and mission support programs across the state.
In a campaign ad posted on YouTube from “Williams works for Wisconsin,” Williams told Wisconsinites they only have a tiny minute, but Wisconsin’s future lies within it.
“Not only is this our minute, it’s our moment,” Williams said.
He said he is combat tested after his two combat tours.
“As your U.S. senator, just as I have stood and fought on front lines abroad, I will stand and fight for you and the democracy of this nation here at home,” he said. “You are looking at someone who truly values education, not only in words, but in deeds.”
Williams, who was born in Abbeville, Mississippi, said he values education and members of the armed forces. He supports job creation, increasing the minimum wage and supporting law enforcement while restoring trust and confidence in the community. He said he values equity, inclusion, mental health issues and will support positive climate change initiatives.
Johnson, who is serving his second term in the U.S. Senate, has not announced if he will seek reelection.
The primary election in Wisconsin will be Aug. 9, 2022. The general election date is Nov. 8, 2022.