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Watertown fire department ahead of field in vaccination

With state health officials announcing that law enforcement and firefighters will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine next week, the Watertown Fire Department is already ahead of the game.

Watertown Fire Department Chief Kraig Biefeld said many in his department are already receiving their second doses of the vaccine.

“The Watertown Fire Department was able to receive the vaccine earlier and most of the personnel that received it have received their second dose,” Biefeld said Tuesday.

Because the city’s fire department provides EMS, it was allowed to get the vaccine sooner.

“For the fire department, we had an average number of members that wanted the vaccine right away,” Biefeld said. “We have some who wanted to wait to see how the vaccine side effects were and only a few who do not want to take it.”

Biefeld received his first dose on Dec 18, 2020.

“It did not have any side effects, besides pain from the needle stick,” he said. “The second dose was given to me on Jan 8. Besides the pain from the needle stick, I had minor joint plan and felt tired for less than a day.”

Biefeld said it was important for the department’s members to get the vaccine, because they have been dealing with the dangers of the COVID-19 virus on a daily basis on its EMS calls, going into homes and transporting patients who have the virus.

“For me, to get the vaccine was important to not only make sure that we are there for the community when they need us, but we have a daughter that has a poor immune system and because she cannot get a vaccine due to her age, I wanted to make sure that there was one less person who could bring the virus to her,” the chief said.

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Health officials await word on next phase of vaccination

Eligibility of firefighters and law enforcement personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine follows its distribution to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, but a plan for the general public’s immunization in Wisconsin remains to be seen.

“The state will be putting out a plan late next week identifying the next groups of people eligible for vaccine, but we do not know the details of the (subsequent) phases for distributing vaccine,” Watertown Health Department Director Carol Quest said.

Quest added that, despite reports in some media outlets, there is no sign-up list at present for persons age 65 and over to receive the vaccine in Wisconsin.

“Public health will be working with all of our health care partners to provide vaccine to the community following the state plan,” Quest said.

Quest discussed the COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Implementation Program Tuesday and said Watertown is currently following this plan to provide vaccinations to Phase 1A individuals. Phase 1A includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Quest said once the vaccine becomes more widely available to seniors who are not in assisted living, an appointment may be needed to receive the vaccine, depending on where a person wishes to get it. Quest said the shots will likely be available at health departments, hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies.

An official state document, “COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Implementation Program,” provides recommendations for coordination of COVID-19 vaccinations in the early stages of vaccine distribution.

It states that the goal for the COVID-19 response is to vaccinate at least 80% of people in Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force, the team that developed the document, the Department of Health Services, has been working to ensure fair, safe and equitable allocation of the vaccine across the state.

The document provides information, technical support, and guidance for vaccine planning and implementation.

“The DHS will sustain and adapt the infrastructure needed to receive and distribute vaccine with maximum access and minimal dose loss or waste,” the task force said. “DHS will also educate and encourage people in Wisconsin to get vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available to them.”

According to the task force, the state is relying on local and tribal health departments to work with their partners in developing the most appropriate community approach. The goal is to connect those needing to be vaccinated with entities approved to vaccinate, and raise awareness in local jurisdictions about the importance of getting vaccinated and ways to do it.

“Public health relies on healthcare and pharmacies to collaborate in vaccinating populations and raising awareness about the need for vaccination to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and reduce death associated with the virus,” the task force said.

Some health care organizations have been able to vaccinate their own staff, including most hospitals.

Watertown Regional Medical Center Marketing and Communications Coordinator Steve Hunt explained how WRMC has been handling its vaccinations, saying it is following the Wisconsin DHS guidance and is vaccinating people who fall into category 1A.

“This is starting with the highest-risk healthcare workers,” Hunt said. “We are also working collaboratively with Watertown Public Health in planning to offer the vaccine to the appropriate community healthcare workers.”

Hunt said the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered as the hospital receives product.

“We have administered upwards of 300 doses so far,” he said.

Hunt said that, in accordance with CDC guidelines, WRMC is encouraging, but not mandating, its staff and providers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“There are employees who are unable to receive the vaccine and employees who are choosing not to receive the vaccine at this time,” Hunt said.

Quest said the federal government has implemented a pharmacy partnership program that matches pharmacies with long-term care facilities. The pharmacies participating then provide vaccine to staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

Quest said local public health is providing vaccine to unaffiliated health care workers, including small medical/dental clinics that will not be receiving vaccine.

Jefferson County Health Department Director/Health Officer Gail Scott said her county has a vaccine distribution/planning group that meets weekly.

“We are all working on getting out the vaccine to as many people identified in the phases as we can,” Scott said. “The dedication to getting people vaccinated is very evident in this group’s work. We have many people who have volunteered to help us, as well as great support from the county for assistance. As usual, Jefferson County and the City of Watertown are working well together to protect as many people as we can and expeditiously get the vaccine out.”

Old World Wisconsin in Eagle is constructing a Brewing Experience building, with plans to move Wittnebel’s Tavern from Old Ashippun to the site. A2

State of State: Evers targets broadband, fixing unemployment

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers, in his State of the State speech Tuesday delivered virtually for the first time in state history, called on the Legislature to update Wisconsin's antiquated unemployment payment system and spend nearly $200 million to expand broadband access, two problem areas the coronavirus pandemic laid bare last year.

Evers pre-recorded the speech which was broadcast on his YouTube and Facebook channels while lawmakers sitting at their desks in the Senate and Assembly chambers watched.

Traditionally, the governor would deliver the speech in the Assembly with lawmakers from both chambers, members of the Supreme Court, the governor’s Cabinet and other guests crammed in. Concerns about spreading the coronavirus scuttled such plans this year.

Evers announced he was calling a special session for the Legislature to fix the beleaguered unemployment system, which was overwhelmed with record numbers of people filing claims when the pandemic hit. It's proven to be a huge political liability for Evers, who fired the agency secretary in charge and has sustained months of Republican criticism over how he handled the backlog in claims that's left some without unemployment checks for months.

Now Evers, a Democrat, is trying to shift responsibility to the Republican-controlled Legislature by forcing them into a special session to take up his plan to modernize the system to speed the processing of claims. He was to release details of his plan on Wednesday.

Evers said if the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn't address the problem, "the people of this state will hold them accountable at the ballot box."

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in a response delivered inside the Assembly chamber with no Democrats present, said Evers' failure to lead was to blame, not an antiquated system.

The pandemic also underscored the problem of broadband access in rural areas and the “digital divide” across the state, Evers said. He declared 2021 the “Year of Broadband Access” and said his state budget to be released next month will include nearly $200 million for broadband improvement. That is five times what was invested over the past three state budgets combined, he said.

Expanding broadband is an issue that has typically found bipartisan support in the Legislature.

Much of Evers' address focused on the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic in what he called an “unrelenting” 2020.

Evers asked for a moment of silence and dedicate the speech to the more than 5,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin to date.

“We’ve made it through a difficult year, folks,” he said. “While it was discouraging, we aren’t defeated. While it was trying, we’re tough.”

Evers was fought by Republicans over many of his efforts to address the virus, including a “safer at home” order the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out in May. The court is currently weighing a challenge to Evers' statewide mask mandate.

Republicans have also been critical of Evers' vaccine distribution plan, saying it's not getting the vaccine out quickly enough.

“Wisconsin is an embarrassment compared to other states,” Vos said.

Evers and other Democratic governors are urging the federal government to distribute vaccines more quickly, while cautioning that the public likely won't be inoculated until June.

Evers' speech came on the same day the state Senate, on a bipartisan vote, passed a COVID-19 relief bill. Evers praised it as a compromise and called on the GOP-controlled Assembly to pass it, but that appeared unlikely. Vos inferred that senators caved to Evers' demands and vowed to continue working toward a deal.

Evers will release his two-year state budget plan next month, laying out in detail his priorities for the second two years of his term, which will consume much of the Legislature’s time this spring and into the summer. The Legislature is also tasked with the once-a-decade task of redistricting this summer.

Evers last year in his State of the State speech announced the creation of a commission to draw maps that will serve as an alternative to what the Republican-controlled Legislature creates. That commission has been holding meetings across the state to gather feedback.

Evers said his budget will include requirements for the Legislature to consider the maps his commission creates and force lawmakers to create their maps in public. Republicans will almost certainly quickly reject those requirements.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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Briess closing Waterloo facility

Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. announced Tuesday afternoon it has decided to close its Waterloo facility. According to a release from the company, as part of its Manitowoc expansion, the company had to “make the difficult decision to close Briess’ manufacturing facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin.”

The Briess Waterloo malting facility has been in operation since 1902.

Production transition to Manitowoc is underway, according to Tuesday afternoon’s release.

“The Manitowoc facility has the infrastructure and capacity to meet our customers’ needs now and into the future. What’s more, easy access through multiple modes of transportation makes Manitowoc the perfect logistical location to reach our customers.”

The release, signed by company President/COO Ryan O’Toole and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bill Schaeffer, said “As a family focused company, Briess will continue to honor its commitment to employees by making opportunities available at other facilities for all Waterloo team members who choose to remain part of the Briess family.”

Briess is headquartered in Chilton.

Further information about the closure of the Waterloo facility was not available as of deadline.