Wisconsin hit grim coronavirus milestones Tuesday, reporting record highs for positive cases, deaths and hospitalizations on the eve of an overflow field hospital opening near Milwaukee.
The state Department of Health Services reported 3,279 confirmed new cases, breaking a record of 3,132 set just five days earlier. There were 34 deaths reported, also a new high, bringing the total number of people who have died to 1,508. To date, more than 155,000 people in Wisconsin have tested positive.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases was 2,727, more than double the 1,141 from a month ago.
The number of people in the hospital because of COVID-19 also hit an all-time high for a second day in a row, growing from 950 to 959, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. There were 243 patients in intensive care.
Wisconsin’s death count as of Monday was the 30th highest in the country overall and the 42nd highest per capita at more than 25 deaths per 100,000 people. The 595 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks ranks fourth most in the country.
Gov. Tony Evers attributed the increase to the Wisconsin Supreme Court striking down his safer-at-home order in May at the request of his Republican opponents as well as fatigue over wearing masks and other recommendations to slow the spread.
“We let down our guard,” he said on a conference call.
Outbreaks have also been reported at three state prisons—the Racine Correctional Institution/Sturtevant Transitional Facility, the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution and the Oshkosh Correctional Institution.
“The numbers are very, very concerning,” Evers said.
Evers urged people to stay at home, wear masks when they go out, limit exposure to others and maintain physical distance from others.
“We have to get this virus under control and help flatten the curve to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed,” he said.
In the face of rising hospitalizations, the overflow hospital opening at State Fair Park will be prepared to handle up to 50 patients starting today and can increase from there depending on need, said state health secretary Andrea Palm.
She urged people to “double down” on taking steps to prevent a spread of the virus so hospitals won’t become overrun, forcing patients into the overflow facility.
Evers also called on Republicans who control the Legislature to come forward with their plans for fighting the virus. Republicans successfully sued to overturn Evers’ safer-at-home order earlier this year and are now suing to overturn the governor’s statewide mask mandate. A GOP-controlled legislative committee took steps Monday to block new indoor capacity limits that he ordered.
The committee directed the Department of Health Services to submit a rule on the capacity limits, which the Legislature could then vote to overturn. Evers said there was no reason to submit a rule given that his order is in place.
Steven J. Craig
Lyle L. Phillips
Doris V. Statton
Joseph H. Viertel
Eric G. Waage
Enrollment in the Janesville School District has dropped by 434 students, or 4.4%, this year as the community prepares to vote on referendum questions next month.
The decline continues recent enrollment patterns in the district.
The district Monday released its third Friday in September enrollment count, which is performed annually. Total enrollment in early-childhood programs through 12th grade is 9,455, down from 9,889 students last year.
“The School District of Janesville, like all districts in the state and nation, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Steve Pophal said in the news release. “We will continue to monitor enrollment trends as we work our way through this public health emergency.”
It's the largest single-year decrease in at least 19 years, according to data compiled by The Gazette. It follows a down year in 2019-20, when enrollment dipped by 172 students. The 2019-20 numbers were the lowest in at least 15 years.
The decline is of greater focus this year as the district prepares for the Nov. 3 election. Voters within district boundaries will see two referendum questions—one for aging facilities and the other an operational question.
The operational referendum was proposed to help counter a decline in state aid, which is determined by enrollment. With fewer students enrolled, the district will receive less money, which could lead to cuts in staffing or programs. The operational referendum would help offset this challenge, Pophal has told The Gazette.
Under the September count, kindergarten enrollment dropped for the first time in five years, a decrease of 39 students. The district’s 4-K program saw a bigger drop-off of 109 students.
“It is possible that there are fewer students currently enrolled in these grades as parents may have opted to home-school during the COVID-19 public pandemic health emergency,” the district release reads.
Janesville charter schools saw an increase of 1,766 students this year, bringing the total to 2,203. The 404% increase in charter school enrollment is largely due to students moving to ARISE, the district’s virtual school, this year because of concerns about COVID-19.
More students open enrolled into the Janesville district than left for other districts. The district gained a net of 102 students in open enrollment this year, the lowest number since 101 students were gained in 2015-16.
The numbers will be counted again on the second Friday in January, when they will be used to calculate the district’s revenue limits and the amount of state aid it will receive.
The state’s funding formula is complex, but the basic math shows that each student brings in an estimated $7,000 in state aid.
The Janesville School Board is set to learn more about the numbers at Tuesday’s meeting.
Some say they envision retail stores or restaurants.
Others picture multifamily apartments.
Those are just a few examples of tire-kicking that downtown revitalization boosters say they’re seeing by developers interested in the former First National Bank property in downtown Janesville.
But leaders of Forward Janesville’s charitable arm, the Forward Foundation, are seeking an independent consultant’s market analysis before they sell the vacant building at 100 W. Milwaukee St. to any of several developers who apparently are interested.
“Our goal is to find the right use first, not find a developer first. We want to know what’s the best and highest use,” Forward Janesville board President Tim Lindau said.
In Forward Janesville’s first month of owning the historic, circa-1913 former bank property, “several” groups, including apartment developers and nonprofit organizations, have been eying the property. This week, another interested developer is touring the former bank, the third group in the last few weeks to walk around the property, Lindau said during a Forward Janesville conference call Tuesday.
The question, Lindau said, is what the 23,000-square-foot property might be best suited for.
Lindau wouldn’t name any parties interested in buying the building, but he said a third-party consultant is working with Forward Janesville on a commercial property market analysis that would take a few months to complete.
Among other things, that study would gauge the need for additional apartment units downtown and elsewhere in Janesville, Lindau said.
“A lot of people are kicking the dirt and seeing what’s available. Some developers and some nonprofits are interested in the bank building and not the rest of the site. We could sell it as one piece or we could parcel it off. It’s a whole city block,” Lindau said. “Overall, the interest we’re seeing is across the board—to the point where we want to do a market study to determine what are our best options.”
Forward Janesville agreed to buy the property in September from Blackhawk Community Credit Union. Last year and early this year, the credit union had done heavy demolition inside the building with the goal of creating a museum to honor General Motors workers. The credit union shifted away from that plan earlier this year and put the torn-up property on the market.
Forward Janesville kicked off its new ownership of the building last month by sealing and painting the bank and an annex that had been left open to the elements for weeks.
Lindau said the Forward Foundation hired a contractor to apply spray-foam sealant to the building, closing it off from the elements. Then the contractor painted the foam covering a uniform red. Lindau said that face-lift is temporary, part of a city repair order Forward Foundation agreed to when it bought the property from the credit union.
The red-painted sealant is temporary, Lindau said, part of a holding pattern as Forward Foundation controls the property with a goal to sell later to a suitable developer or developers.
As Blackhawk had worked to turn the property into a museum with retail and commercial office space on one end, other developers launched apartment projects that are bringing at least 100 units to the downtown—something officials who’ve worked on revitalization downtown say is needed to spur ongoing redevelopment.
Meanwhile, over the last two years, various developers have begun moving on projects throughout Janesville that would bring hundreds of new apartment units over the next few years.
Lindau said some developers have said they would consider converting parts of the one-square-block property into apartments.
He said the market study Forward Janesville has launched is aimed at vetting the site for adaptive reuse for apartments.
In any scenario that would involve apartments, Lindau said, it’s likely a developer would want to develop apartments under contract. Before that, the developers would want a market study on the site and downtown.
“Let’s be honest, we’ll have 600 units of multifamily that will be introduced to the market over the next year. Nobody knows what that does in terms of saturating the market,” Lindau said.
“Our position is, let us do the research to see if multifamily use is even viable,” Lindau said.