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Blackhawk Tech COVID-19 testing site adds more testing capacity

National Guard troops are able to test 400 more people per week for COVID-19 at the Blackhawk Technical College community testing site, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The increase in testing capacity is in reaction to high demand in the site’s first two weeks of operation, BTC spokeswoman Jennifer Thompson said.

The site will have supplies for 650 tests per day, up from 450 per day last week, Thompson said.

The test site, which is open Wednesdays and Thursdays, shut down early during its initial two weeks because supplies ran out.

On Thursday, 533 tests were administered, down 74 from the week before, Thompson said.

She said demand dropped slightly this week, but there was still a steady flow of people getting tested.

Anthony Wahl 

A member of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team uses a nasal swab to collect a sample from Jill Cooley during the free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Blackhawk Technical College’s central campus on Thursday.

More people tend to seek testing right before events or holidays, Thompson said.

Public health officials predict testing demand will remain high as COVID-19 continues to surge nationwide and as Thanksgiving and other holidays approach.

Rock County saw a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the second consecutive day Thursday, with 50 people being treated across the county. That’s up two people from the previous record of 48 on Wednesday.

Mark Goelzer, medical director at Mercyhealth, said local hospitals still have capacity and resources for patients with coronavirus and those needing other care.

There is still time to turn things around before local hospitals hit their breaking points, but that can only happen if people take precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing and staying home as much as possible, he said.

The county reported one more COVID-19 death Thursday, bringing the total to 48.

Anthony Wahl 

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team help with free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Blackhawk Technical College’s central campus on Thursday, Nov. 5.

There are 2,151 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, up 35 from Wednesday, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

Rock County reported 114 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday for an all-time total of 6,091.

Of test results reported Thursday, 31% were positive. County epidemiologist Nick Zupan has said any positivity rate greater than 10% is concerning.

Goelzer said the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases is caused by a combination of schools and universities opening, more people being inside because of the weather and more people gathering in general.

It takes two to four weeks after an event for the impact of community spread to be seen, he said.

Goelzer said the community was in better shape in summer because of the lingering effects of the safer-at-home order and other guidelines, as well as more ability to gather outdoors.

Anthony Wahl 

A collected sample is dropped into a medical bag as members of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team assist with free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Blackhawk Technical College’s central campus on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Presidential election exposes America's 'perilous' divides


Presidential elections can be revealing moments that convey the wishes of the American people to the next wave of elected officials. So far, the big reveal in the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is the extent of the cavernous divide between Republican and Democratic America, one that defines the nation, no matter which candidate ultimately wins.

Voters from both parties turned out in droves to pick the next president, but as they did so, they found little agreement about what that president should do. Democrats and Republicans prioritized different issues, lived in different communities and even voted on different kinds of ballots.

Whoever emerges as the winner, that division ensures that the next president will face significant gridlock in Congress, skepticism about the integrity of the vote and an agitated electorate increasingly divided by race, education and geography. Even the vote count itself threatens to further split Americans.

Two days after polls closed, neither Trump nor Biden has earned the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Republican incumbent is encouraging his supporters to protest outside counting locations still sorting through mail ballots—the method of voting preferred by many Democrats—while pursuing an aggressive legal strategy that could lead to further delays.

“Except for the Civil War, I don’t think we’ve lived through any time as perilous as this in terms of the divisions,” said historian Barbara Perry, the director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Even after the 2000 election, when the Supreme Court ultimately intervened on Republican George W. Bush’s behalf, Democrat Al Gore quickly conceded and congressional leaders found areas of agreement on Capitol Hill.

“To come out of something like this, you need to have a leader who can lead and willing followers,” Perry said. “I just don’t see willing followers on either side.”

The yawning divides will threaten the next president’s ability to manage multiple crises: Daily coronavirus infections set a record this week, the economy is struggling to recover from the pandemic and many Americans are pressing for a reckoning on racial injustices.

Trump and Biden voters, however, express strikingly different views on those challenges, according to AP VoteCast, a broad survey of the electorate. Biden voters overwhelming say they want the federal government to prioritize limiting the spread of the virus, even if that means further damage to the economy. But most Trump voters preferred an approach that focused on the economy.

About half of Trump voters also called the economy and jobs the top issue facing the nation, while only 1 in 10 Biden voters named it most important.

On race and justice issues, Biden voters almost universally said racism is a serious problem in U.S. society and in policing. But only a slim majority of Trump voters, who are overwhelmingly white, called racism a serious problem.

Biden has tried to bridge this gap, often appealing to a sense of national unity and the “soul” of America. Trump often casts himself as a defender of his voters. He has threatened to withhold pandemic-related aid from states run by Democratic governors and disparaged cities run by Democrats.

Many Democrats desperately hoped that Trump would suffer an embarrassing and broad defeat that would serve as a clear repudiation of Trump and his brand of politics. At the very least, they wanted an unambiguous mandate that would allow Biden to pursue ambitious policies on health care, education and the economy.

Trump might lose, but strong GOP turnout in battlegrounds and unexpectedly solid victories for Republican candidates in Senate and House races made Tuesday far from a thumping.

“There’s certainly not a clarion call to go in one direction or another. There’s a lot of confusion and chaos,” said civil rights leader Martin Luther King III, who supported Biden.

The election solidified the parties’ competing coalitions. Biden relied on urban and suburban voters, particularly women, college-educated voters and people of color. Trump exceeded his turnout numbers from 2016 by relying on thousands of new supporters from rural, GOP pockets of white voters across the country.

Results in high-turnout counties underscore that trend: Republican-leaning places became more Republican and Democratic areas more Democratic.

The Democratic margin increased in 70% of the counties that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the Republican margin widened in 56% of counties that Trump won that year, according to an Associated Press analysis of all counties that by Thursday evening had tallied more votes than in the last presidential election.

That dynamic toppled some Democrats who had won seats in politically mixed areas by running as moderates. In Iowa, for example, Democrat Rep. Abby Finkenauer lost her re-election bid in the eastern part of the state as Trump bolstered his margins in rural areas such as Buchanan County just west of Dubuque. Trump won the rural county, which is 96% white, by 15 percentage points in 2016. That jumped to 21 percentage points this year.

That geographic polarization is part of what worries those who see the culture of cooperation in Washington rapidly eroding.Former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a leading Republican voice in the days after the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, said it’s unclear whether congressional leaders will have an incentive to work with the other party.

“There were people in the Senate like Ted Kennedy and Ted Stevens who held strong views but were there first and foremost to get things done and govern, so they did not fear their base and were willing to compromise,” said Gregg, who has emerged as a Trump critic. “I am not sure that type of leadership is there today because of the strident voices that dominate both parties. But Biden, if president, has seen how it can be done, so we can hope.”

Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 6, 2020

Juliette H. (Hanson) Branks

Patrick M. “Pat” Bucholtz

Ruby Corley

Charlene Mae Green

Dorothy “Grace” Murph

Joyce M. Olstad

Debora Purnell

Lawrence Charles (Harrison) Renaud

John Lee Roberts

Donald E. Weig

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California dreaming? Warm spell expected to last through weekend


Dozens of people walked along downtown streets in short-sleeved shirts and shorts Thursday, passing by large, light-up snowflakes installed atop light posts on Main Street for the holidays.

Temperatures this week have been unseasonably high and will continue to be throughout the weekend.

But Monday night, southern Wisconsin is in for a “reality check,” said Paul Collar, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Sullivan.

This week’s high temperatures have skirted around record highs, according to weather data kept by The Gazette since 1948.

Thursday’s high temperature hit 72 degrees, one degree higher than the 71-degree record for Nov. 5.

Wednesday’s high also reached 72 degrees, just missing the Nov. 4 record high of 73 degrees.

Forecasts show Monday’s high temperature could hit a record of 74 before sinking back to normal later that evening.

The balmy start to November was caused, essentially, by chance, Collar said.

A well-positioned jet stream is sending warm air north, he said.

“We are in the right spot,” Collar said.

A cold front is expected to approach Monday night, bringing an end to the mild stretch, and a low-pressure system likely will bring precipitation that night, Collar said.

In the meantime, local restaurant owners such as Matt Kealy are soaking up the benefits of the warm weather.

High temperatures have attracted reservations for patio seating at Kealy’s Drafthouse restaurant and bar this week.

“We never anticipated a week like this in November,” Kealy said.

Health professionals recommend keeping small gatherings outdoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has financially crushed businesses, particularly bars and restaurants, where people are likely to gather in close quarters and potentially spread the novel coronavirus.

Kealy said he will continue to serve people outside as long as they ask for it.

Drafthouse has a patio with three outdoor heaters, and Kealy has ordered an additional heater, which is on back order, he said.

There are no indications yet that this winter will be any warmer or colder than normal, Collar said.

“We are trending more toward normal conditions,” he said.

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YWCA Rock County conference empowers people to fight racism


James Loewen visited his hometown of Decatur, Illinois, almost 20 years ago to headline a writers conference.

The author of the best-selling book “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” mentioned that he was doing research on U.S. cities that were intentionally white.

He invited people to tell him about these “sundown towns.”

To his amazement, they told him stories about every community around Decatur.

Since then, Loewen has realized that intentional sundown cities were everywhere in the Midwest, including Janesville.

They were communities that for decades—either formally or informally—kept out Black Americans or other groups. Some marked their city limits with signs warning Black people: “Don’t let the sun go down on you in our town.”

Loewen will talk about sundown towns during a workshop and give the morning keynote address at the sixth annual Racial Justice Conference organized by the YWCA Rock County.

The all-day event will be virtual via Zoom on Thursday, Nov. 12.

“Janesville does have African-American residents, but historically the perception has been that Janesville is white, and Beloit is Black,” Loewen said. “I’ve come upon so many bits of evidence, especially from African Americans, that Janesville was a sundown town that I think it likely was.”

In Rock County, the city of Evansville and the towns of Clinton, Milton and Plymouth also were sundown towns, according to an article by the Rock County Historical Society.

The Midwest had more sundown communities than anywhere in the United States, and Loewen estimates that some 10,000 existed in the United States by their peak in 1970.

Some cities kept nonwhite residents out with signs. Some threatened violence. Some, like Janesville, used restrictive covenants against minorities in the bylaws of city subdivisions as late as the 1960s.

“Even in this era of mixed messages about race, almost no one is willing to defend sundown towns today,” Loewen said. “But they still exist.”

In addition to Loewen, other conference speakers include Alex Gee, lead pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Madison.

The topic of his afternoon keynote address is “Moving Backwards in a State Whose Motto is Forward: Understanding Wisconsin’s Dismal Racial Disparities.”

Almost 30 years ago, Gee pioneered the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, a Madison nonprofit that develops and mobilizes Black leaders to become partners in transforming the community.

When the YWCA began the racial justice conference in 2015, it did not know if anyone would attend.

“We sold out the first year and every year thereafter,” said Angela Moore, executive director.

In the past, the conference was limited to 250 people because of the venue size.

This year, there is no limit on the number of participants because the event is virtual. More than 600 people already have signed up.

“We are so pleased that many people will hear the message of racial justice by participating in our conference,” Moore said.

The goal of the conference is to “engage, educate and empower those who attend to find ways to eliminate racism,” organizers said. The local YWCA is part of a national movement of more than 200 YWCAs working to eliminate racism.

Moore is optimistic about the future of racial justice.

The Black Lives Matter movement and incidents involving police violence and Black people have increased awareness about racial justice, Moore said.

“So many people were out expressing their feelings and protesting,” Moore said. “We haven’t seen that since the 1960s. It was so exciting to see people of all colors, genders, races and all ages expressing their views about racial justice.”

Amiee Leavy, the YWCA’s racial justice director, said the conference takes on added importance this year.

“The murder of George Floyd and the world’s response to it has shifted the way many of us perceive racial justice,” Leavy said. “The twin pandemics of racial injustice and COVID-19, with its disproportionate negative impact on communities of color, have left our community searching for opportunities to effect positive change.”

The YWCA Rock County has experienced an increase in requests for racial justice trainings, she said, adding: “It is more important than ever to participate in challenging conversations.”

Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra .com.