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Health care workers recall excitement, hope from first vaccinations a year later

BELOIT

“It was like gold—we didn’t want to waste a single drop of it.”

That’s how one health care worker in Rock County described the importance of getting COVID-19 vaccines late in 2020.

On Dec. 22, 2020, Beloit Health System began administering vaccines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the city of Beloit. On Dec. 27, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Janesville began administering vaccines to front-line health workers and first respondeers.

In the year since, Beloit Health System has administered a total of 30,222 vaccines and 39,461 COVID-19 tests. Across the entire SSM Health network, 326,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Wisconsin.

Beloit Health System registered nurse Doris Mulder came out of retirement to help battle the pandemic and recalls working many 10- to 12-hour days prior to the vaccine making its way to Beloit.

“It’s been a vital part in the tool kit as new treatments became available in the last year,” Mulder said. “I was very happy and very excited when we found out the vaccine was coming to Beloit. We have a huge responsibility for the community and it felt great to see that we were taking the next step in fighting the pandemic.”

Mulder said she recalls administering a vaccine to a patient who said her brother died of COVID-19 complications in 2020.

“So many people have such compelling, heart-breaking and wonderful stories about the pandemic,” Mulder said.

Vaccines brought relief to health workers

Mary Cooper, a registered nurse for BHS, said the vaccine becoming available to health care providers brought hope after months of unknowns and few ways to treat patients struggling with COVID-19.

“The vaccine has helped keep people more healthy if they do get COVID and prevents people from altogether getting it,” Cooper said.

Since the pandemic began, Cooper has been testing for COVID-19 and then administering the vaccine.

Cooper also shared stories from patients who stuck with her. She said an elderly patient described people getting the polio vaccine and how the vast majority of the public chose to get vaccinated for polio.

“We need to look past ourselves and see what would be better for the whole community,” Cooper added.

When vaccine doses became available to SSM Health employees, Registered Nurse Brenda Klahn recalls a rush of excitement as health officials planned how to start the initial rollout.

“We were so thrilled to get the vaccine that we met on Christmas Eve so we could make plans to get the vaccine in people’s arms,” Klahn said. “We came in on that weekend and got vaccines administered.”

Early on, Klahn recalled having to learn how to ensure all doses were used without wasting any of the valuable solution.

“The biggest goal was to not waste any vaccine,” Klahn said. “Everything was a calculation of how much time you had once you did certain things with the vaccine—from taking it out of the cold storage to reconstituting it with fluid and pulling it in a syringe.”

Health care workers learned those gray areas quickly because only two doses were lost initially out of the early vaccination effort, she said.

“I was very proud of our team and the efforts,” Klahn said. “This was a very short time frame and we wanted to make sure we could get it in our arms as quickly as possible.”

Registered nurse Claire Kuschel was the first person at St. Mary’s in Janesville to get the vaccine on Dec. 27, 2020. She recalls the moment as one of nervousness and excitement.

“It was something we were all waiting for,” Kuschel said. “It was a sense of relief that there was some sort of hope in this grief and sadness we were experiencing. It was like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Having the vaccine gave Kuschel the confidence to interact with loved ones as well as an extra layer of protection.

“The vaccine really does make a difference,” Kuschel said.

COVID-19 cases spiking again

All health care workers interviewed said they didn’t know where their health systems would be without the availability of the vaccine, even as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases are spiking.

Klahn said the last week was “horrific for our staff” due to increasing COVID-19 patient hospitalizations which is having a domino effect across other areas of the health care system.

“We are overwhelmed right now,” Klahn said. “We’re seeing very few people who are vaccinated being hospitalized. The vast majority of our hospitalizations and severe cases are those who are unvaccinated.”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated individuals.

Locally, an average of 4,965 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated residents were reported compared to 1,136 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated residents between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 in Rock County, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department. The health department also reports an average 150 hospitalizations per 100,000 unvaccinated residents were reported in that time compared to 34 hospitalizations per 100,000 vaccinated residents.

“I recognize it’s a personal choice, but unvaccinated people are far more likely to be hospitalized or die if they get it. It’s a logical step to keep everyone around you safe,” Mulder said.

Klahn added, “I trust the vaccine way more than I trust the disease. The vaccine can have minor side effects, but with the disease, we don’t know who it’s going to attack the worst.”


Business
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Ho-Chunk looks to allow sports betting at tribe gaming facilities

BLACK RIVER FALLS

The Ho-Chunk Nation is in the process of amending its compact agreement with the state of Wisconsin to allow sports betting, including at the yet-to-be-built Beloit casino, Adams Publishing Group has learned.

Ho-Chunk Nation Public Relations Officer Ryan Greendeer confirmed the amendment is currently in the works for the tribe’s compact agreement with the state.

“We do anticipate (sports betting) will be offered at our facilities,” Greendeer told The Beloit Daily News via email.

Ho-Chunk officials currently are waiting on the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a final ruling on its land fee-to-trust application related to the Beloit casino-resort project which is needed before construction of the casino can begin. The tribe previously said it plans to break ground on the Beloit project in the spring.

On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and leaders from the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin signed an amendment to the tribe’s compact to allow St. Croix-operated casinos and affiliate locations in Wisconsin to offer event wagering on sports and non-sport events. The signed amendment must now be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Interior for a 45-day period.

The compact amendment follows months of negotiations between the tribe representatives and the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of Gaming. The compact amendment was voted on by the St. Croix Tribal Council on Nov. 30.

“We are in exciting times here at St. Croix. The addition of sports wagering at the St. Croix Casinos will give our tribe the ability to give our customers the most comprehensive gaming experience in the state of Wisconsin,” said Chairman William Reynolds. “We are greatly appreciative of the partnership Gov. Evers has provided to the tribes and we look forward to continuing this government-to-government relationship.”


Iridescent Pheasant feathers can be seen as two wait to be released.


Milton’s Sophia Mezera goes up for a contested shot in the paint while defended by Janesville Parker’s Addie Miller during their non conference game in Milton on Tuesday.


Rock County still encouraging shots

In light of an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks because of holiday-related gatherings and the omicron variant, Rock County Public Health Department officials are urging unvaccinated residents to get a poke over the holiday season at two upcoming free clinics available to anyone age 5 and older.

It might be an ideal time for adults and children to get vaccinated. Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 20, there were 1,593 total cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children age 4 to 18 in Rock County, yet only 75 of those cases (or about 5%) were among fully vaccinated children, according to information released by the health department.

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a public health advisory calling on Wisconsin residents to take urgent action to prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths. The highly contagious omicron variant has been detected in Wisconsin and is anticipated to cause a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the omicron variant is accounting for more than 70% of new cases of COVID-19 infection in the nation.

Vaccination provides protection against the delta variant, including greater than 90% effectiveness against hospitalization and death when breakthrough cases occur. While omicron data is still being evaluated, it suggests vaccination is effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization.

The county health department and AMI are both offering vaccination clinics. Free rides are available for each clinic by calling 211.

There will be a DHS community-based vaccine clinic at 1900 Center Ave., Janesville. People can schedule at vaccinate .wi.gov or call 844-684-1064. Walk-ins are also welcome. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. It will be closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1.

People also can get jabbed at the Rock County Public Health Department vaccine clinic, 3328 N. Highway 51, Janesville. People can schedule appointments at rebrand.ly/RCPHD-COVID-appt or by phone at 608-352-6727. Walk-ins are also welcome. Hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, but it is closed today.

Rock County data update

In the seven-day period from Dec. 13 to Monday, 441 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Janesville. There were 302 reported in Beloit in that time frame, 96 in Milton, 81 in Edgerton, 54 in Evansville, 40 in unincorporated areas and 16 in Clinton.

The number of active cases in Rock County remains on the rise with 2,395 active cases reported Tuesday, up from 572 on Nov. 3. There were 34 new COVID-19 cases reported in Rock County on Tuesday and no deaths. The most prevalent age group testing positive in Rock County is 25- to 34-year-olds.

To date, a total of 24,104 cases and 247 deaths have been recorded since the pandemic began in spring 2020.

There were 48 people hospitalized in the county as of Tuesday, which has come down from 57 on Dec. 7. The case rate is 680 cases per 100,000 people in Rock County, which has also come down.

Of Rock County residents eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, 61.4% have completed a vaccine series.

As of Monday, the average new cases per day in Wisconsin for the past seven days has been 3,315. The seven-day average of deaths per day in the state has been 29 and the seven-day average state positivity rate was 11.9%. The seven-day average of those hospitalized in the state was 1,658.

As of Tuesday, there were 57.8% of the total population of Wisconsin residents who have completed the vaccine series.


Local
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Consultant: Solar project at Janesville landfill would not pay off anytime soon

JANESVILLE

A public-private solar power plant at the city of Janesville’s municipal landfill likely won’t get built anytime soon unless the cost and economics of such a project changes, a city official said.

Maggie Darr, operations director for the city of Janesville, said a consultant’s report heard by the city council last week provided “good news and bad news.”

The good news: It likely would be physically feasible to build and operate a 22-acre set of solar power arrays on a closed or capped section of the city’s landfill off Black Bridge Road—or will be in a handful of years.

But the bad news is that the vast bulk of the project’s net cost—about $5.03 million—wouldn’t be recoverable under a 20-year operational model that assumes the city would sell power back into Alliant Energy’s power grid, according to a study the city ordered this fall from Madison consultant SCS Engineers.

Darr said SCS’s estimate of the city’s expense gave her and others a sense of “sticker shock.”

It assumes the city would develop about 7,200 solar panels across 22 acres of landfill just north of Black Bridge Road at a cost of $5.4 million. That section of the landfill has been closed since 1986.

The project would bring online an initial 3 megawatts of solar production—a relatively small-scale project compared to many private solar projects that aim to develop hundreds or thousands of acres for solar use.

That would be just one of four potential landfill sites totaling about 80 acres in all that consultants said the city ultimately could develop for solar.

With about a mile of fiber optic communications lines needed between the landfill solar site and Alliant’s nearest electrical substation, Darr said it wouldn’t pay for the city to bankroll construction of the landfill now.

The consultants came to this conclusion even after factoring in a possible public-private partnership with Alliant that would allow the parties to tap into a 22% state tax incentive aimed at offsetting depreciation of power generating infrastructure and equipment at the site.

The study’s outcome, which was revealed in a short presentation to the Janesville City Council by SCS last week, showed that at current reimbursement rates for municipalities selling back solar to a utility such as Alliant, the city over a 20-year span would draw down on the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the city would only recoup about $370,000 of the initial $5.4 million cost of the project.

Darr said that if the city built out solar on other parts of the landfill as they close over the next 5 to 10 years, the SCS study indicated that under current costs and energy reimbursement rates, the project would not create economy of scale for the city.

“Even in a good-case scenario we’d probably still not be making money at the end of the 20-year period,” Darr said.

Solar plants that are set up and operated as public-private partnership with leased land and energy buyback agreements remain relatively rare in Wisconsin, in part because of the “ambiguity” of Wisconsin’s electric utility interconnection rules.

“Currently, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission is in the process of clarifying the terms and procedures for connecting customer-sited electric generation equipment to the utility grid. It is expected that the clarification would support these arrangements and Wisconsin would see an increase in solar installation,” SCS Engineers wrote in its study.

SCS wrote that it used “conservative” assumptions on the cost of infrastructure and pointed out that if the city does want to pursue solar at the landfill in the future, the city should negotiate further with Alliant on rate structures for selling back power to the grid.

Darr said it’s possible that in the future, if technology costs for solar continue to decrease, solar at the landfill could become more economically feasible.

Darr said she hopes that the outcome of the city’s review of solar at the landfill won’t curb residents or private commercial entities from hatching their own private solar projects in the Janesville area.


Maggie Darr


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