A1 A1
top story
Rock County's official election results coming soon; recount next?


Joe Biden got an additional vote from a Rock County town on Monday as the Rock County Board of Canvassers went through the painstaking process of verifying the Nov. 3 vote.

The vote came from a provisional ballot, which is a ballot cast even though the voter did not bring proper documentation to the polls, in this case a photo ID.

The voter had until Friday to show up at the town clerk’s office with a photo ID, which is what happened, so that person’s votes were counted.

The Gazette is not revealing which town the provisional vote came from because someone who was in the polling place might be able to figure out who that voter was.

Countywide, 19 provisional votes were cast, 16 of them in Janesville and Beloit. Final tallies of all the votes probably will be posted on the county website sometime today, County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said.

Tollefson also must enter any changes into a statewide elections database.

Those results will include any changes to the Blackhawk Technical College referendum but not the school district referendums, which are canvassed at the district level, Tollefson said.

The big question on everyone’s mind is about the probable call for a recount from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump’s challenge cannot be made until all counties finish canvassing.

Rock County was expected to complete its canvass Monday, but all counties are unlikely to finish until the deadline, Nov. 17.

Then the Trump campaign has one day to call for a recount. Biden won the state by the unofficial tally of less than 21,000 out of nearly 3.3 million ballots counted. That margin will likely change by a small amount after all the canvasses are completed.

As for the one provisional ballot mentioned earlier, Tollefson instructed canvasser Larry Holterman to put all the documentation into a manila envelope, “so if there’s a recount, we’ll have this all together,” she said.

In a recount, officials would check the board of canvassers’ work and also look at each ballot, something the canvassers don’t do, Tollefson said.

Tollefson recalled that the last recount took 10 days to complete. Local elections officials familiar with the process are brought in for the recount. They are normally watched by observers from the two major parties and sometimes others.

Monday, the three-member board of canvassers, plus Tollefson, checked the totals from each voting tabulator. The tabulators register each vote and calculate totals for each candidate. They also issue a summary of the voting on a spool of paper about 3½ inches wide.

The canvassers checked the paper-tape results against the tallies on their printouts. They added in provisional ballots where appropriate.

Holterman read off the voting results for each candidate and the number of write-ins for each vote-counting machine. Lucille Vickerman, Dave Vaughn and Tollefson checked their own printouts to confirm.

Holterman is the Republican Party’s representative on the board of canvassers. Vaughn represented the Democrats. Tollefson normally would have been the third member, but because she was on the ballot, Vickerman filled in for her.

Tollefson guided the board whenever a question arose. The Gazette observed the process for more than an hour. Other observers were there, as well. The public was allowed to attend and to ask questions, and some people did, often to ask someone to repeat a vote total.

The canvassers added up the votes in each municipality to make sure their tallies matched. At one point, Vickerman noted what she thought was a discrepancy, but after a check, she found she had written down an incorrect number.

The board took most of the day to get through all the votes from the various towns, villages and cities.

Once in a great while, Holterman was not able to read a number on the tape, where the print is very small and a zero can look like an eight. When that happened, he asked Vickerman to confirm.

Another part of the canvass is a review of any notes made by each poll’s chief inspector. Holterman read a note in one town where a voter dropped off an absentee ballot and then wanted to vote again.

“No ballot was issued,” Holterman read.

top story
Game on: Milton School Board says 'yes' to winter athletics


Milton School District students will get a winter athletics season.

After nearly two hours of discussion Monday, the school board voted 6-1 to allow Superintendent Rich Dahman to work with administrators and hold winter athletics and activities competitions at Milton High School.

If the high school goes fully virtual—as it is now because of a number of students testing positive for the coronavirus—athletics and activities will be suspended during that time, the board decided.

Based on a surge in COVID-19 cases in Rock County and the fact that sports are transitioning indoors, the Rock County Public Health Department has recommended against competitive sports in which athletes cannot physically distance.

Yet at the same time, Rock County has issued guidance on how to limit the increased risk of competitions.

The school board did not require, as at least one other district has done, that student athletes attend school fully virtually.

School board member Rick Mullen, who played basketball in high school, cast the only "no" vote.

“There’s been a lot of emotion involved in this issue,” Mullen said. “I completely understand that. I’ve been trying to look at the facts. Since August, things have gotten much, much worse. Cases are up, positivity rates up, hospitalizations are up, deaths are up, contact tracing is down. Testing sites are overburdened. ...

"I think there are a lot of questions about what’s going to happen in winter. These are all indoor sports. There will be a lot of close contact: basketball, wrestling. Plus, flu season is coming up. Who knows what that’s going to do?

“I get really confused when I hear administration saying we need these things in the schools like one-way hallways; we’re doing the cohorts," he said. "We’re asking kids to stay away from each other, but then it’s OK to play basketball and wrestle?”

Board member Shelly Crull-Hanke replied, “I just really feel kids need hope, and these coaches need hope—something to keep going forward right now. And this is a way to for them.”

Jeff Spiwak, the high school's director of athletics and activities, said 68% of high school football teams and 74% of girls volleyball teams played this fall statewide. Many students are looking to do winter sports.

“To take away something they’re passionate about is detrimental,” board member Brian Kvapil said.

“I don’t want to say COVID isn’t a serious issue. It is," he said. "But in my opinion, I think the risk is higher that we’re going to do some damage and cause some real issues with stress and anxiety with our students that could be at a higher risk of being more catastrophic than what COVID is.”

While positive cases of the coronavirus could halt a sports season, Dahman said, “If we’re getting reports that folks aren’t following our safety protocol, we aren’t going to allow that group to continue.

“Our hope is that being allowed to participate in activities will motivate them to do an even better job than they’ve been doing both in school and outside of school,” he said.

Dahman said high school athletes will be allowed two spectators per home competition. No away visitors will be allowed, and teams will not play anywhere that allows away visitors.

Dahman said he will recommend that parents sign a waiver before students participate in winter athletics and activities.

Spiwak said accommodations will be made to mitigate virus spread. If the governor mandates masks, athletes will wear masks, he said.

Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 10, 2020

Linda Kay (Engelbert) Borgwardt

Kevin C. Christopherson

Helen Jean Close

Norma Jacobson

Eleanor B. Juhl

Jaruwon “Thim” Lervik

Richard Meissner

Anne Marie (Kleven) Naeser

Pauline Pinnow

Russel Roy Pinnow

Robert S. Radford

Doris A. Schumacher

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective

Pfizer said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine might be a remarkable 90% effective based on early and incomplete test results that nevertheless brought a big burst of optimism to a world desperate for the means to finally bring the catastrophic outbreak under control.

The announcement came less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the scourge, which has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.

“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”

Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration once it has the necessary safety information in hand.

Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said as Pfizer appeared to take the lead in the all-out global race by pharmaceutical companies and various countries to develop a well-tested vaccine against the virus.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s senior adviser, said Pfizer’s vaccine could “fundamentally change the direction of this crisis” by March, when the U.N. agency hopes to start vaccinating high-risk groups.

Global markets, already buoyed by the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, rallied on the news from Pfizer. The S&P 500 finished the day with a gain of 1.2%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 800 points. Pfizer stock was up more than 8%.

Still, Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean for certain that a vaccine is imminent: This interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries.

Some participants got the vaccine, while others got dummy shots. Pfizer released no specific breakdowns, but for the vaccine to be 90% effective, nearly all the infections must have occurred in placebo recipients. The study is continuing, and Pfizer cautioned that the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 cases are added to the calculations.

Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, former chief of the FDA’s vaccine division, called the partial results “extremely promising” but ticked off many questions still to be answered, including how long the vaccine’s effects last and whether it protects older people as well as younger ones.

Trump, who had suggested repeatedly during the presidential campaign that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day, tweeted: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!”

Biden, for his part, welcomed the news but cautioned that it could be many months before coronavirus vaccinations become widely available in the U.S., and he warned Americans to rely on masks and social distancing in the meantime. He said the country still faces a “dark winter.”

Confirmed infections in the U.S. eclipsed 10 million Monday, the highest in the world. New cases are running at all-time highs of more than 100,000 per day. And tens of thousands more deaths are feared in the coming months with the onset of cold weather and the holidays.

Pfizer’s vaccine is among four candidates already in huge studies in the U.S., with still more being tested in other countries. Another U.S. company, Moderna, also hopes to file an application with the FDA late this month.

Both companies’ shots are made with a brand-new technology. These “mRNA vaccines” aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.

The timing of Pfizer’s announcement is likely to feed unsubstantiated suspicions from Trump supporters that the pharmaceutical industry was withholding the news until after the election. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “The timing of this is pretty amazing. Nothing nefarious about the timing of this at all right?”

Pfizer has insisted that its work is not influenced by politics and that it was “moving at the speed of science.” Its independent data monitors met Sunday, analyzing the COVID-19 test results so far and notifying Pfizer.

Pfizer initially opted not to join the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which helped fund a half-dozen vaccine makers’ research and manufacturing scale-up. Pfizer instead said it has invested $2 billion of its own money in testing and expanding manufacturing capacity. But in July, Pfizer signed a contract to supply the U.S. with 100 million doses for $1.95 billion, assuming the vaccine is cleared by the FDA.

Pfizer said its only involvement in Operation Warp Speed is that those doses are part of the administration’s goal to have 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines ready sometime next year.

The strong results were a surprise. Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot might be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective and require yearly immunizations. Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

Whatever the ultimate level of protection, no one knows if people will need regular vaccinations.

Also, volunteers in the study received a coronavirus test only if they developed symptoms, leaving unanswered whether vaccinated people could get infected but show no symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus.

Pfizer has estimated it could have 50 million doses available globally by the end of 2020, enough for 25 million people.

Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group, called the release of the preliminary and incomplete data “bad science” and said that any enthusiasm over the results “must be tempered” until they are reviewed by the FDA and its independent experts.

“Crucial information absent from the companies’ announcement is any evidence that the vaccine prevents serious COVID-19 cases or reduces hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease,” the organization said.