Karly L. Jensen
Diane L. Myers
Harry J. O’Leary
Barbara Lee Titus
Diana “Dee” Ward
Sylvester “Bill” Wesley
Richard Campbell’s small gray Pontiac was decorated with handmade signs that read “RC works with the best people for 47 years” and “RC said we will come back stronger than ever.”
The 69-year-old maintenance worker for Van Galder Bus in Janesville wanted the signs to be a statement of solidarity for his bosses and 300 co-workers at the company where he has worked his entire adult life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has marooned the tourism and travel industry, and it has left Campbell and 277 other Van Galder employees on temporary furlough for the last month. Wednesday was the first time Campbell had seen most of his colleagues since he was laid off in April from his job cleaning buses and the bus terminal and headquarters on Pearl Street.
Campbell, known as “RC” to his co-workers, was one of about 100 employees who orchestrated a 20-minute car and motorcycle parade past company headquarters Wednesday morning.
The parade was meant to buoy the spirits of workers and management, and the message was simple: “We miss you.”
Supervisor Tim Ballenger, who led the parade planning, was one of many wearing Van Galder work shirts. Some of the charter bus drivers wore the white shirts and neckties they would normally wear while driving buses.
The company’s school bus service was suspended in mid-March when schools closed. Van Galder’s Coach USA charter bus service temporarily shut down in early April in response to plummeting ridership. Furloughs have affected almost 100% of the workforce.
As workers lined up their vehicles on Riverside Street, the drive that rims the Monterey lagoon, Ballenger talked about what the parade meant to Van Galder managers and the dozens of workers who organized it.
“You’ve got people who been here a long time,” Ballenger said. “Like RC. He’s worked the job almost 50 years. A month off the job is tough because a lot of us, we’ve all been together years. We miss each other and want to see each other.
“I just said out of the blue, ‘Hey, a crazy idea would be to do a parade. Get together and do a parade right past the job. Let the managers know, ‘Hey, we’re still in this. We still love you guys, and we’re ready to get back to work when we can. But we understand what’s going on. Nobody ever saw anything like this (COVID-19) stuff,” he said.
Ballenger and other employees said some workers hadn’t yet received unemployment checks because of a crush in unemployment claims. But one employee said Van Galder has continued to pay health benefits for some employees on furlough.
Ballenger said word reached Van Galder’s management that workers had planned something special, and President Al Fugate asked if he could join the parade.
“We told him, ‘Nah, you ain’t in the parade. This parade is for you,’” Ballenger said.
On Wednesday morning, employees on motorcycles led a parade of dozens of cars in circles around the block, past company management and office workers who held their own signs and blew kisses at the passing vehicles.
One employee leaned out of his car window as he passed the company office. Grinning, he started shouting over the blaring horns.
“I’m tearing up! I’ve got tears in my eyes!” the man shouted as he used one hand to wipe them away.
When the parade wrapped up, most of the employees parked in a lot across the street. They gave Fugate a banner they made that read “Van Galder Strong.” Parade participants had signed their names and wrote messages on the banner.
Fugate joined the workers for a photo in front of two charter buses. Some workers hugged each other and linked arms.
Fugate said Van Galder is still uncertain how long its unprecedented shutdown—the first in the company’s history—will continue. He said most analysts expect state governments might begin slowly reopening the economy in the early weeks of summer.
But it’s not clear how quickly the public might begin traveling again. Fugate expects travel, particularly by charter bus, will be affected months after COVID-19 business restrictions are lifted.
He predicts the temporary furloughs will end gradually as Van Galder and Coach USA work through a “stair-step” approach to reopening routes and services.
Fugate said the employee parade brought tears to his eyes.
“It seemed clear to me today that our people understand,” he said. “They understand what we’re trying to do to stay alive. We’re coming up on our 75th anniversary. What we’re trying to do is save the company so we can put in another 75 years.”
Rock County has the ninth-highest daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to data collected by the New York Times.
The county— labeled as the Janesville-Beloit metro area on the data table—has a daily growth rate of 9% with a doubling rate of eight days.
Rock County’s neighbor to the south, Rockford, Illinois, ranks eighth on the Times’ list. Green Bay and Racine are listed as 11th and 12th respectively.
There have been 311 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County, and 10 people have died.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 17 people were hospitalized, up two from Tuesday, according to a news release from the Rock County Public Health Department.
Of those who have had the disease in Rock County, 21% have been hospitalized, according to county data.
Explanation for the high growth rate in Rock County is two-fold, said Rick Wietersen, environmental health director for the health department, in an email to The Gazette.
Many recent positive cases came from residents of Rock County who work at the Birds Eye food processing plant in Walworth County, he said.
The National Guard on Thursday and Friday will help with COVID-19 testing at the Birds Eye food processing plant in Darien, a Walworth County health official said this week.
An outbreak of cases at Birds Eye caused the plant to shut down for weeks. It is estimated at least 100 out of 800 employees have had the disease.
But an increase in testing capacity is the main driver for the sharp uptick in cases, Wietersen said.
The number of tests given over the last two weeks nearly triples the number of tests given in the two weeks prior from 496 to 1,457, Wietersen said.
There have been 2,939 COVID-19 tests given in Rock County since testing began in mid-March.
Of all test results in Rock County, 27% came back in the first six days of May.
Local officials maintain that social distancing is working and has prevented Rock County from experiencing overflow at local hospitals.
Models created by the Rock County Public Health Department show without social distancing Rock County would have seen a peak of 8,800 cases this week with 1,043 people hospitalized.
At regular capacity, Rock County can accommodate 260 hospitalized people and 37 people in intensive care.
Rock County’s four hospitals can add hospital beds if a surge in cases were to occur, but the exact number has not been shared publicly.
The city of Janesville has purchased emergency medical shelters, which would add 50 beds in the city if needed.
Projections from the health department based on cases as of May 1 indicate Rock County will see its peak June 7 with 3,550 cases.
As of Wednesday, Rock County is behind the model’s pace. There are 311 confirmed cases compared to the projected 418 for May 6.
Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag in a daily briefing Wednesday morning acknowledged cases in Rock County increased almost tenfold from April 6 to May 6.
“Folks, this is real, OK,” Freitag said. “... History shows societies adapt to changes. We will have to adapt, change the way we do business, from family on up.”
As Europe and the U.S. loosen their lockdowns against the coronavirus, health experts are expressing growing dread over what they say is an all-but-certain second wave of deaths and infections that could force governments to clamp down again.
“We’re risking a backslide that will be intolerable,” said Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity.
Around the world, German authorities began drawing up plans in case of a resurgence of the virus. Experts in Italy urged intensified efforts to identify new victims and trace their contacts. And France, which hasn’t yet eased its lockdown, has already worked up a “reconfinement plan” in the event of a new wave.
“There will be a second wave, but the problem is to which extent. Is it a small wave or a big wave? It’s too early to say,” said Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus unit at France’s Pasteur Institute.
In the U.S., with about half of the states easing their shutdowns to get their economies restarted and cellphone data showing that people are becoming restless and increasingly leaving home, public health authorities are worried.
Many states have not put in place the robust testing that experts believe is necessary to detect and contain new outbreaks. And many governors have pressed ahead before their states met one of the key benchmarks in the Trump administration’s guidelines for reopening—a 14-day downward trajectory in new illnesses and infections.
“If we relax these measures without having the proper public health safeguards in place, we can expect many more cases and, unfortunately, more deaths,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Cases have continued to rise steadily in places such as Iowa and Missouri since the governors began reopening while new infections have yo-yoed in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
Lipkin said he is most worried about two things: the reopening of bars, where people crowd together and lose their inhibitions, and large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and plays. Preventing outbreaks will require aggressive contact tracing powered by armies of public health workers hundreds of thousands of people strong, which the U.S. doesn’t yet have, Lipkin said.
Worldwide the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed more than a quarter-million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts agree understates the dimensions of the disaster because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
The U.S. has recorded over 73,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections. Europe has reported more than 140,000 dead.
This week, the researchers behind a widely cited model from the University of Washington nearly doubled their projection of deaths in the U.S. to around 134,000 through early August, in large part because of the easing of state stay-at-home restrictions. Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. exceed 20,000, and deaths per day are running well over 1,000.
In hard-hit New York City, which has managed to bring down deaths dramatically even as confirmed infections continue to rise around the rest of the country, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that some states could be reopening too quickly.
“My message to the rest of the country is learn from how much effort, how much discipline it took to finally bring these numbers down and follow the same path until you’re sure that it’s being beaten back,” he said on CNN, “or else if this thing boomerangs, you’re putting off any kind of restart or recovery a hell of a lot longer.”
A century ago, the Spanish flu epidemic’s second wave was far deadlier than its first, in part because authorities allowed mass gatherings from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
“It’s clear to me that we are in a critical moment of this fight. We risk complacency and accepting the preventable deaths of 2,000 Americans each day,” epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers, a professor at Johns Hopkins, told a House subcommittee in Washington.
President Donald Trump, who has pressed hard to ease the restrictions that have throttled the economy and thrown more than 30 million Americans out of work, pulled back Wednesday on White House plans revealed a day earlier to wind down the coronavirus task force.
He tweeted that the task force will continue meeting indefinitely with a “focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”
The U.S. unemployment rate for April, which comes out Friday, is expected to hit a staggering 16%, a level last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Governors continue to face demands, even lawsuits, to reopen. In Michigan, where armed demonstrators entered the Capitol last week, the Republican-led Legislature sued Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, asking a judge to declare invalid her stay-at-home order, which runs at least through May 15. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-home order. The justices’ ruling could come at any time.
In hard-hit Italy, which has begun easing restrictions, Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Superior Institute of Health, urged “a huge investment” of resources to train medical personnel to monitor possible new cases of the virus, which has killed about 30,000 people nationwide.
He said that contact-tracing apps—which are being built by dozens of countries and companies—aren’t enough to manage future waves of infection.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting with the country’s 16 governors that restaurants and other businesses will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks but that regional authorities will have to draw up a “restriction concept” for any county that reports 50 new cases for every 100,000 inhabitants within a week.
Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s national disease control center, said scientists “know with great certainty that there will be a second wave” of infections.
Britain, with over 30,000 dead, the second-highest death toll in the world behind the U.S., plans to extend its lockdown but has begun recruiting 18,000 people to trace contacts of those infected.
In other developments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 5,000 coronavirus illnesses and at least 88 deaths have been reported among inmates in American jails and prisons. An additional 2,800 cases and 15 deaths were reported among guards and other staffer members.