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A red tail hawk took advantage of the high winds as it soared over the Watertown area on Saturday. Red tail hawks can usually be seen circling in the sky looking for prey. Kim Hiller submitted this photo for the paper.

Troops to staff nursing facilities to free up hospital beds
Gov. Tony Evers says Wisconsin National Guard troops will help fill staffing shortages at skilled nursing facilities over the coming weeks in hopes of opening up more beds and relieving pressure on hospitals

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin National Guard troops will help fill staffing shortages at skilled nursing facilities over the coming weeks in hopes of opening up more beds and relieving pressure on hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday.

The governor said troops are being trained as certified nursing assistants. About 50 soldiers were deployed to six nursing homes during the past week. Another 80 soldiers who started training this week will deploy at the end of January. And a group of 80 soldiers will begin training in early February and deploy by the end of that month.

The additional staffing should allow the nursing facilities to open up hundreds more beds that can receive recovering patients. That in turn should free up hospital capacity, according to the Evers administration.

A surge of COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks has left hospitals dealing with staff shortages amid a deluge of patients. The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 9,915 cases as of Thursday, almost double from two weeks ago.

The surge has put a record 488 people in intensive care units. Nearly 2,278 people were hospitalized as of Thursday, an increase of 276 patients over the past week, according to the Evers administration.

The administration noted that as of Wednesday it has helped recruit 626 nurses and other health care workers to support 76 health care facilities in the state.

Meanwhile Thursday, the state Department of Corrections announced it was suspending all in-person visits at its facilities except for religious volunteers, emergency workers and those working on necessary facility projections. Those people will be required to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon entering the buildings beginning Tuesday and will have to wear masks and socially distance.

Report: Alcohol-related deaths in Wisconsin rose 25% in 2020
A new report finds that alcohol-related deaths in Wisconsin rose almost 25% in 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Alcohol-related deaths in Wisconsin rose almost 25% in 2020, according to a report released Thursday.

Data compiled by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum shows 1,077 Wisconsin residents died of alcohol-related causes in 2020, up from 865 in 2019. The data was compiled from U.S. residents’ death certificates.

The report uses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s definition of alcohol-related deaths to mean deaths directly attributed to excessive drinking such as alcohol poisoning and liver disease. The definition does not include deaths caused by drunken driving or alcohol-fueled violence.

Overall, Wisconsin residents died from alcohol-related causes at a rate nearly 25% higher than the nationwide rate in 2020.

The report speculates that the increase in deaths may be driving by higher rates of binge drinking in Wisconsin and the state’s history of high alcohol consumption. Alcohol use also has risen considerably amid the stress and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report noted.

Helenville's Behl steps into publishing

HELENVILLE — As a child, Kristen Emily Behl loved creative writing, but as she approached adulthood, she thought she had to choose a “practical” career path.

She found her chosen career as a physical therapist to be both stable and rewarding, but it lacked that creative spark.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Behl realized what was missing.

“I always had this idea that someday I’d write a book, but I’d put it on the back burner, to the extent that my husband didn’t even know that was a dream of mine,” said the Helenville resident.

Thanks to the brakes the pandemic put on “the daily grind,” Behl actually found herself with time to write — and beyond that, she discovered a passion not only for producing her own books but for helping others create their own.

The result is a new book imprint, “Goose Water Press,” through which Behl has published four of her own books and one by another author, with additional books by other area authors in the works.

Behl’s first book came out of a series of letters she was writing a friend who was expecting a baby. Behl pledged to write one letter per month to give her friend some idea of what to expect, sharing her own experiences and offering Christian encouragement, funny stories and advice.

This project just took off, and as the months progressed, the letters got longer and longer.

Encouraged by her friend, Behl got the idea of turning the letters into a book.

Then the pandemic hit. At the time, Behl had been working at the Watertown Regional Medical Center’s juvenile outpatient clinic, but as medical facilities shut down “non-emergency” care to focus on COVID-19, three workers at the clinic were temporarily laid off, including Behl.

She welcomed the time at home with her children, age 2 and 3 1/2, but found that more than ever, she really needed a creative outlet.

She found herself writing children’s stories in her head, then began looking into all of the different possibilities for getting published.

She researched various approaches, from traditional publishing to all different types of self-publishing, pouring herself into the research for a full year.

“There’s a lot of stigma to self-publishing, but actually a lot of authors are doing that now, because traditional publishing companies are accepting fewer and fewer manuscripts.

“They only want to pick you up if you are an established author,” Behl said. “The process is long — most authors have to wait for years before they see their book in print — and then the publisher takes most of the profits.”

And traditional means of self-publishing heavily benefit the publisher over the author.

“Even if you sell a ton of books, you only take home 7% to 10% of the profit on them,” Behl said.

Eventually, Behl decided not only to self-publish but to start her own publishing company, making use of print-on-demand technology.

“I spent a lot of time researching the process, finding out how to connect with great illustrators, how to develop a contract, etcetera,” she said.

Overseeing her own publishing process gave Behl 100% control over her own product, which she felt was important, given that her whole reason for publishing was to produce books with wholesome, Christian content that families could trust.

“I want to use my books to build up families,” Behl said.

Behl knew she had to go into the process with a business mindset, taking charge of the production and marketing.

In 2021, she established Goose Water Press as her own business.

In quick succession, she cranked out her pregnancy advice book, “Letters to the Expecting Mama,” and three books for children, all of them up to mass market and library standards.

Her best seller is her first book, “I Love You More than Mountains,” which uses the stunning landscapes of America’s National Parks to show how big the love is between parents and their children.

That book grew out of Behl’s family’s real travels and their enjoyment of the great outdoors.

“My older child had been to like 20 national parks before the age of 4,” Behl said.

The illustrator, from Ukraine, used the family’s own photos of the stunning scenery as a basis for her art, following the dimensions of the photos closely but giving the whole thing a watercolor look.

Behl’s second children’s book, “Upendi, a Tale of Hope in Africa,” is winding up in a lot of classrooms.

This story also came out of personal experience.

“My brother-in-law is South African,” Behl said, “has since moved here, but he used to manage a safari company introducing tourists to the wildlife where he lived in Tanzania.”

Behl said she had the chance to see this African wildlife in person when she visited in 2016 and was very impressed.

“It was like watching the Discovery channel right in front of you,” she said. “I also had the chance to get to know some of the local people on that trip,” she said. “It was very eye-opening and humbling.”

When the pandemic started, tourism just stopped, which left the local villagers with no means of making money and forced some to turn to poaching the endangered animals in order to make ends meet, she said.

“He said that the syndicates were offering $300, the equivalent of a month’s pay, for these endangered animals,” she said.

In this book, she puts out the call to preserve this unique wildlife and the locals’ way of living.

She has also written a humorous children’s picture book “The Messiest Eater on the Block.”

“I didn’t start with the intent of publishing other people,” Behl said. That’s not what she had in mind, she noted, but God apparently had other plans, putting her in the path of another aspiring writer, Linda Teed of Fort Atkinson.

Soon other opportunities presented themselves, and Behl connected with other aspiring authors whose works she agreed to print, offering editing help, connecting writers to professional illustrators and seeing them through the process to make their books come out the way they want.

As a hybrid publisher, Behl takes an up-front fee, then splits the proceeds 50-50 once the author recoups that initial investment. The authors handle their own contracts with illustrators, though Behl is happy to hook people up with illustrators she knows and trusts.

Though the continuing pandemic has put a damper on some of the traditional marketing opportunities, Behl has had a few chances to get out in the local community to promote her books, appearing at Watertown’s Literatus and Co and at the Friends of the Johnson Creek Public Library holiday fair.

She also has a big presence online, on Facebook and Instagram as well as her own company’s website.

Her buyers include a lot of homeschool families and educators who are looking for quality, family-friendly reading materials that align with their religious values.

Upcoming projects include two more books in Behl’s young mom series: “Letters to a New Mama” and “Letters to a Toddler Mama,” and the advice book “Traveling with Tots,” as well as works by three other authors, including a homeschool mom from Illinois and an 18-year-old from Waukesha who is writing a book aimed at empowering children with disabilities.

“The whole process has been fun for me,” Behl said. Seeing her own ideas from creative sparks all the way to a published book was in ways like bringing a child into the world. Now, as a publisher, she’s essentially a “midwife to stories,” seeing others through that creative process to realizing their dreams.

In the past few months, Behl has returned to her “day job” in physical therapy, but is determined to continue both writing and publishing.

“My biggest takeaway from this whole experience is that I don’t have to do just one thing,” she said. “I can be a medical professional and a mother, a writer and a publisher.

“This venture has really opened up doors for me,” she said. “It has been uplifting, a breath of fresh air — and it’s also helped me achieve a work-life balance that really keeps me grounded,” she said.

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses
The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Congressman Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wisconsin) supported the decision.

“I am pleased to see the U.S. Supreme Court confirm what we’ve known all along —President Biden’s vaccine mandate on employers is an overburdensome and unconstitutional directive. The Supreme Court’s decision to stay this vaccine mandate provides assurance to Americans that they will not be fired for their personal decision on whether to get the vaccine, but we cannot let our guard down. While this ruling offers a momentary reprieve, I hope the lower courts take note and permanently strike down OSHA’s illegal vaccine rule. No American should ever be forced to decide between vaccination or termination,” he said.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”

Biden called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies already have done so.

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.”

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”

In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have.” It said the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare arena.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed onto Thomas’ opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are asked for negative test results before being allowed inside the courtroom for arguments, though vaccinations are not required.

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.

Emergency management's role changes in pandemic

JEFFERSON — Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has refocused the energy of Jefferson County’s emergency management office in 2020 and 2021, according to its director, Donna Haugom.

“We spent many weeks organizing, ordering, separating and distributing personal protective equipment for firefighters, EMS, long-term care facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and many other facilities that provide care for their clients,” Haugom told the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors this week.

Haugom also thanked Amy Listle and her Jefferson County Fair Park for providing space for the distribution.

“We worked regularly with the Wisconsin National Guard, coordinating and setting up COVID-19 testing sites. We also thank Kevin Wiesmann from the Jefferson County Parks Department and Paul Vogel at the county’s health and human services office,” she said. “None of this would have gone as smoothly as it did if not for them.”

Haugom said her department’s plan of work with the state puts Jefferson County in a safer place and it received its grant funding, “accordingly.”

In its ongoing effort to mitigate flooding near Lake Koshkonong, Haugom said the county continues to buy and remove structures in that area’s flood plains to address life safety and to reduce property damage.

“Emergency management continues to work on many plans to help improve our response to an emergency or disaster,” Haugom told the county board. “Some plans include debris management plans, volunteer management plans, creating damage assessment teams, developing an emergency fuel plan and donations management plan. ... There is much to accomplish to complete the duties of our office and with only 1.6 employees, we continue to have our work cut out for us.”

Haugom’s long term objectives include encouraging and assisting citizens to be better prepared with their own emergency plans; creating a donation management plan; creating a volunteer management plan; continuing with the establishment of a debris management plan; fostering public/private partnerships within Jefferson County; mitigation by acquiring additional properties in the floodway and floodplain and encouraging emergency operations center readiness.