Wisconsin Weekly: COVID-19 forces hard choices on caregivers, people with disabilities

Health aides in short supply; COVID-19 behind bars; PFAS results debated; state crime lab testing down; meatpacking rules not enforced

Of note: This week we highlight two Wisconsin Watch collaborations that looked at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on vulnerable populations: People with disabilities and people behind bars. Bram Sable-Smith, a WPR fellow based in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom, reports that people with disabilities and their caregivers are making hard choices about how to remain safe during the pandemic. And Parker Schorr found that prisoners in Wisconsin feel unprotected as the virus — which has raged through many jails and prisons nationwide — continues to spread here. Schorr is a Cap Times fellow based in our newsroom.

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Courtesy of Matt Ford

Matt Ford is seen in Verona, Wis., with his caregiver Grace Brunette.

Coronavirus exposes caregiver shortage, upending lives of Wisconsin’s disabled residents

WPR/Wisconsin Watch — May 20, 2020

Wisconsin already faced a shortage of caregivers who offer crucial services and independence to people with disabilities. Then the pandemic struck.

Firefighting foam manufacturer says most wells tested so far turned up no trace of PFAS

WPR — May 20, 2020

A manufacturer of firefighting foam says the majority of more than 250 drinking water wells it tested in Marinette County turned up no trace of toxic chemicals known as PFAS. But state regulators say it’s too early to understand the scope of PFAS contamination in the area’s drinking water.

Photo illustration by Brandon Raygo / Cap Times

Inmates fear ‘the invisible enemy’ in Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons

Cap Times/Wisconsin Watch — May 21, 2020

While county jails have lowered populations  significantly during the pandemic, state prisons have seen just a modest reduction in inmate numbers. Inmates say they lack key protections; correctional officers often do not wear masks, and staying 6 feet apart is nearly impossible. And very few inmates in Wisconsin have been tested for COVID-19.

Meatpacking safety recommendations are largely unenforceable

Associated Press — May 21, 2020

As Wisconsin grapples with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing facilities, the Associated Press reports that federal recommendations meant to keep meatpacking workers safe as they return to plants that were shuttered have little enforcement muscle behind them.

Amber Arnold / Wisconsin State Journal Archives

When a victim of sexual assault chooses to file a police report and have the case prosecuted in court, forensic nurses do an exam to collect evidence for analysis and package it in a box like the one shown. The box is shipped to the state Crime Lab by police or nurses.

Report shows delays in testing at state crime labs

Wisconsin State Journal — May 21, 2020

A Department of Justice Division of Forensic Sciences report released Tuesday showed crime labs took longer last year to process evidence related to DNA, major crime scenes, firearms and forensic video and image analysis, even as the total number of cases submitted to the crime labs decreased.

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