About half of Rock County Jail inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and inmates and their loved ones shared frustrations about the outbreak.
Jail Capt. Kim Litsheim told The Gazette on Wednesday the jail has accounted for 115 inmates who have tested positive. The total inmate population for the last week or so has hovered around 230 as inmates are released and admitted.
The first round of testing among inmates showed 86 positive results. The latest 29 positive results came after the jail retested inmates who previously had tested negative but still were in the incubation period.
Litsheim said five staff members have tested positive.
Tyrone Gibson Jr., 22, is one of the inmates who has tested positive for COVID-19. But he said in an interview Wednesday he’s young and healthy enough that his symptoms have not been as bad as others.
Still, he can’t smell or taste, and he was frustrated with the sanitation practices and how he said inmates were being treated.
He said other inmates feel similarly.
“We’re not animals,” he said. “It’s just wrong. We feel like dogs in here. Dogs trapped in cages.”
Another one of Gibson’s concerns is how cold it is in the jail—the concrete, the metal, what feels like cold air. He said they’re not allowed to get extra blankets.
In response, Litsheim said inmates are allowed to ask a nurse for an extra blanket. There is no shortage of blankets, and she said she is fine with inmates getting extras if they’re cold and ask for more.
Litsheim also said she understands why inmates are nervous, but she stood by the cleaning practices the jail is using. They have also ordered more cleaning devices beyond what they had, such as a second Skytron 1140 UV Light Robot.
Gibson said inmates who are nonviolent offenders should be released so they can seek medical care on their own and not through the jail.
“It’s just, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
As those inside the jail continue to battle COVID-19 infection, which has ravaged the facility in the last week, inmates have loved ones on the outside worried about how they are doing.
Maleesha Jackson, of Janesville, said Gibson sounds OK, but he hasn’t really been himself after everything he’s going through.
Jackson and Gibson care deeply about one another. So much so they felt it was important to go through with their wedding last Sunday.
They couldn’t be together, of course. She couldn’t be in the jail with him.
A wedding over video wasn’t “ideal,” they said. It would have been better to be in person, but they didn’t want to let the circumstances stop them from going through with it.
“It helped me in a lot of ways,” Gibson said. “I love my wife. I love her so much. To still be able to have that ceremony like we did, it meant a lot.”
But they must still make it through this difficult time.
Jackson understands jail is not supposed to be a vacation for her husband and it’s hard. But she still thinks the correctional officers should treat the inmates with respect.
“They aren’t being heard,” she said of the inmates. “As long as their voice can somehow get out, I think that would definitely be a relief on their part.”
Almost of one-third of Rock County Jail inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and inmate tests are still pending at the State Hygiene Lab, jail officials said.
Litsheim said no inmate has had to receive sustained treatment at a hospital, but three have been taken to a hospital, evaluated and returned to the jail.
She also said they are not charging for any COVID-19 hospital visits. If someone needs emergency medical care, she said, they alert a staff member immediately.
Regina Nance, of Janesville, said her significant other, Tommy Pettis, is one of those inmates who had to go to the hospital.
She said he tested positive and had to get checked out at a hospital Tuesday. He has a heart condition, which has made Nance even more worried for him.
She said he should have been able to leave the jail by now to serve a prison sentence, where he can take advantage of programs for his alcohol problems. Then he can come home.
But he has to wait at the jail until he has recovered.
“My biggest fear is every time you look at the news, somebody is dying. And I don’t want that,” she said. “This is so scary.”
Nance talked to Pettis, 53, on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. She said he told her he is feeling better, possibly due to the stronger medication he received at the hospital.
She can hear it—the slight progress—in his voice, too. They’ve been together for about 15 years.
Even the fresh air, outside of the jail’s walls just for a moment, could have helped, she said.
“He don’t like hospitals,” she said. “But he liked it that day. He liked it that day.”
Rock County Jail officials said Monday they started offering COVID-19 tests to staff members who want them after an outbreak infected several dozen inmates.
Janesville sports have lost their voice.
Al Fagerli spent nearly four decades calling play-by-play and talking sports on the WCLO and WJVL radio airwaves before retiring and being inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
On Monday, Fagerli died after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.
“Absolutely heartbroken about the passing of Janesville icon Al Fagerli,” Parker athletic director and football coach Clayton Kreger said in a post on social media Wednesday morning. “Words cannot express how much Al meant to Janesville Athletics and the entire community. Al was truly a high character person who will be missed by so many.”
After broadcasting gigs early in his career in Louisiana and Rice Lake, Fagerli arrived in Janesville in 1980 and began doing football, boys basketball and hockey games. Several years later, he was an advocate for adding girls basketball broadcasts and also eventually did some baseball.
Fagerli spent more than 36 years as essentially a one-person sports department for WCLO and WJVL.
He was up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare sports news, scores and commentaries for a 5 to 9 a.m. morning show on WCLO. Late mornings often included recording radio spots or meeting with local coaches to prepare pregame or halftime interviews. And on game days, Fagerli might not return home from a road trip to Madison or the surrounding area until near midnight.
He called all 12 of Janesville Parker’s trips to the girls state basketball tournament, including three championships. He called all four of Janesville Craig’s state baseball championships. And he was there when Milton won football state titles in 1986 and 1989.
“Al literally brought the game into the living rooms and vehicles of countless listeners ... because he displayed so much passion for the game,” Joe Dye, longtime Parker football coach and athletic director, said upon Fagerli’s retirement in 2016. “Al’s enthusiasm for Janesville sports was the defining part of his career.”
Fagerli estimated he called nearly 2,000 area games. He was the winner of the Wisconsin Athletic Director’s Appreciation Award in 2004 and won several Wisconsin Broadcasting Association awards.
In 2016, the press box at Monterey Stadium—home to Janesville’s high school football teams—was named the Wedeward- Fagerli Press Box in honor of the dedication shown by Fagerli and longtime Gazette Sports Editor Dave Wedeward.
“Al was there for a lot of the most important games,” Wedeward said at the time of Fagerli’s retirement. “But he made sure neither side of town was being short-changed.
“There isn’t anybody who cares more about Janesville and Janesville kids than Al. ... He is Janesville sports.”
Fagerli prided himself on giving local student-athletes their 15 minutes of fame.
“How many, over the 36 years, can I say they really hit the big time? ... There aren’t many,” Fagerli said in 2016. “That was their time, so let them enjoy it.”
Since his retirement, Fagerli had continued to lend his unmistakable voice in advertisements for local businesses. And during the past couple of seasons, he was the public address announcer for the Janesville Jets hockey team during home games at the Janesville Ice Arena.
Most recently, in late October, WCLO Operations Manager Tim Bremel called on Fagerli to pinch hit when the station was temporarily short-staffed. Fagerli returned to his old post on the morning show for a couple of weeks.
“He jumped right in, and after a day or two sounded just like the old Al,” Bremel said. “We got so many comments from people that said hearing Al’s voice just sounded so normal in this tough year. They were appreciative to have him back on the air.
“It almost seemed like all was right in the world.”
And now Fagerli is gone, leaving behind his wife, Mary, and daughter, Anna.
For so many Rock County residents and sports fans, however, Al’s voice will live on in their memory banks forever.
Ruth Mae Alderson
Laurence “Frank” Herrick
Steven Charles Krumenauer
Elizabeth Ann Schooff
Henry F. Seward
George C. Wellnitz Jr.
James H. “Jim” Worthing
Wisconsin’s new Office of Rural Prosperity says low wages, housing shortages and lack of high-speed internet access are among the issues faced by small towns and sparsely populated areas across the state.
The office, created by Gov. Tony Evers under the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., released a 100-page report Wednesday from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity based on 22 meetings with rural stakeholder groups, public comments and virtual listening sessions attended by more than 400 participants.
Even in a divisive political climate, there were many things people agreed on, said Kelliann Blazek, director of the Office of Rural Prosperity.
In fact, the pandemic cast a light on issues that have been around for a long time.
Among many things rural stakeholders told the commission:
Places such as Door County face major challenges with housing for families living on low wages. There is also a lack of housing in agricultural communities.
“An affordable 100-year-old farmhouse with no insulation is no bargain in Wisconsin winters,” the report said.
The cost of living in small towns was also questioned.
“The assumption that everything costs less in rural areas is just that: an assumption,” the report noted. “People often pay more to buy necessities like groceries and gasoline in rural places because local vendors themselves pay more for low-volume orders and higher shipping costs—plus, there is less competition.”
Bigger employers, such as school districts, colleges, hospitals and government, provide anchor jobs offering higher wages, health insurance and retirement benefits. Other jobs in rural communities, including ones in important and growing categories such as tourism and recreation, tend to offer lower pay and be parttime and seasonal.
“Rural workers often must cobble together three or four jobs just to cover necessities,” the report said.
The lack of high-speed internet was a common thread connecting such topics as education, health care and the loss of young people in rural communities.
About 43% of rural Wisconsinites lacked access to what’s called “broadband,” internet speeds of at least 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits for uploads, according to a 2019 report from the state Legislative Reference Bureau.
Scores of rural communities remain stuck with internet speeds that lag cities by more than a decade—if they have access at all.
If it’s not the No. 1 issue, “it’s got to be close to it,” Gov. Tony Evers said in an interview.
The pandemic has magnified the reality that broadband is as essential as any utility and that much of rural Wisconsin is not well connected.
“When rural broadband is lacking or insufficient, schools and businesses have little recourse except to risk their students, customers and workers’ health by operating onsite or shutting down altogether. … Discrimination and poverty add to this challenging mix. Tribal communities, immigrants and communities of color across rural Wisconsin disproportionately lack broadband access,” the report said.
“Without adequate broadband infrastructure, it is difficult to retain and attract young workers who require internet access to live and work in today’s digital world—and that difficulty will only grow.”
Dozens of Wisconsin counties have seen a population decline in the last decade, and almost all those counties are rural.
It creates a host of problems for communities as fewer homes are built and the tax base shrinks. If rural communities fail to address the issue, they won’t have the financial resources to pay for services an increasing number of elderly residents will require.
Rural counties often have difficulties funding their schools, which have substantial fixed costs but receive less state aid when student enrollment declines.
“We need to rebuild the economy in rural Wisconsin, and we cannot continue to lose people, young people in particular,” Evers said.
Restoring the state’s commitment to provide two-thirds funding for public schools, which was generally in effect from 1997 to 2003, was an idea the commission said merited a further look. Increasing the Department of Public Instruction’s Sparsity Aid program, which provides funding specifically to rural school districts, was also on that list.
Mental health was also one of the topics that came up in the meetings.
“Many rural stakeholders raised deep concern about rural residents—from youth to farmers to veterans to the unemployed and more—who are suffering from mental illness and emotional trauma. For example, farmer suicide is on the rise and needs special attention and resources,” the report noted.
“Stakeholders also underline alcohol and drug abuse, including the addiction to opioids that has plagued the nation in recent years. These problems persist and are growing in rural areas, especially those that offer less opportunity to make a good living. With a shortage of rural social workers, therapists, psychologists and pediatricians, families are often forced to wait extremely long periods of time or drive long distances to get appointments with the necessary health providers for drug treatment and mental health concerns.”
Worker shortages were another issue cited in the meetings.
“Rural Wisconsin’s population is significantly older, on average, than in its metropolitan centers. As a result, workers are retiring and fewer youth are coming into the workforce to backfill their jobs—something that’s especially true in some key industries like agriculture, forestry and manufacturing,” the report said.
But rural life can make it hard to retain or recruit workers.
“A major barrier for many adults who want to work is the shortage of affordable, high-quality child care. The lack of decent, affordable housing stock also discourages potential workers from moving to where rural jobs are—and can drive workers with young families to search for a home and job elsewhere,” the report noted.
“Pay is a special challenge for recent graduates more likely to have solid technology skills; rural college students graduate from college with the same level of debt as metro counterparts, and many in fields like health care and IT find it nearly impossible to service that debt without relocating to a metropolitan area where wages can run 50-100% higher than comparable jobs in rural areas.”
This year has been filled to the brim with evolving delivery services, and Shop With a Cop is no exception.
Typically, the annual community event frees up officers to go shopping with children during the holiday season. The children are given money, generally about $100 to $200, for a spree that is funded by sponsors or donations.
But the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult for officers to participate in the yearly festivities, given the close, personal contact they have with children and their families.
So instead of strolling through the toy aisles with the children, officers shopped ahead of time, picking out gifts based on lists from the children’s families, and delivered them Wednesday to their homes.
Janesville police officer Chad Sullivan, who oversees Shop With a Cop, said he contacted Blain’s Farm & Fleet this year to figure out a way to host the program despite the pandemic’s challenges.
Farm and Fleet has hosted and donated to Shop With a Cop in years past.
“It’s not the most convenient and not the best possible interactions possible with these kids,” Sullivan said. “The families that are being chosen have kids that have done good things, deserve to be chosen for this great event, and we still wanted them to have some holiday cheer.”
Kids are nominated by elementary school teachers and staff.
Officers got to spend $200 per child, and Sullivan said the money went a long way. With help from friends, Sullivan wrapped hundreds of presents leading up to Wednesday’s event.
The money often provides gifts for both the children and some of their family members.
“It is a positive encounter with a police officer in uniform,” Sullivan said. “Still are able to say hi to them and wish them a happy holiday.”
About a dozen Janesville police officers and Rock County sheriff’s deputies participated in Wednesday’s deliveries, including Rock County police dog Kamo, who dressed in a holiday sweater for the occasion.
At his first two stops, Sullivan let the kids open one gift.
A girl who received a baby doll told officers she liked the gift and grinned from ear to ear.
Sullivan told the girl and her brother the rest of the gifts had to wait until Christmas, and he encouraged them to continue doing well in school.