Report: How COVID-19 surged inside a Wisconsin prison — 1/4/21

A roundup of top news and information about Wisconsin’s response to the coronavirus

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Today we highlight a Wisconsin State Journal story about how a Wisconsin prison failed to contain a massive COVID-19 outbreak. 

Reporter Emily Hamer documented “a series of missteps” that caused infections to soar within Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution — from just 12 active COVID-19 infections in early September to more than 870 in October. The Sheboygan County prison failed to separate inmates from others and was slow to shut down indoor areas where inmates congregate, staff members and inmates told Hamer. 

“Inmates and staff both reported seeing guards come to work with symptoms, and guards continued to come into work after being exposed because of staffing shortages,” wrote Hamer, a former Wisconsin Watch intern.

Top Stories

Amber Arnold / Wisconsin State Journal

Shannon Ross, who was released from Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution in September, takes part in a vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion for inmates who have died or gotten sick from COVID-19.

‘They played with our lives’: How one Wisconsin prison failed to contain a COVID-19 outbreak — Wisconsin State Journal 

Pandemic-era budget, new legislative maps loom as Wisconsin lawmakers begin session — WPR 

As Milwaukee closes book on historic year of violence, there’s some optimism for 2021. But just some. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Pandemic response raised Public Health’s profile, caused ‘shift in focus’ — Cap Times 

Wisconsin demand for guns, ammo hasn’t subsided since start of COVID-19 pandemic — WPR 

Former Aurora pharmacist accused of intentionally destroying vaccine released from jail; charges uncertain until vials tested by Moderna — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

249 people in Racine County lost their lives after catching COVID in 2020. Here are some of their stories — Journal Times 

Janesville murder trial postponed again because of COVID-19 pandemic — Janesville Gazette

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“As the pandemic continues to have effects on our small business owners, our workers, students and parents across the state, and every aspect of Wisconsinites’ daily lives, it would be inexplicable after more than 260 days of inaction for any other issue or topic to be taken up by the legislature prior to passing a bill to address COVID-19 — especially one on which we’ve already been able to find common ground.”

Gov. Tony Evers in a letter Monday to the Wisconsin Legislature

“Early in the pandemic — watching people refuse to wear masks, assuming that youth or good health would keep them safe — I believed that fear was the only way to change behavior. …But now, as people congregate because they are just so exhausted by the loneliness and the waiting, I wonder whether hope is actually a more powerful tool.”

Dr. Daniela J. Lamas, a critical-care physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, writing about vaccinations for The New York Times

Data to note

Wisconsin has administered nearly 67,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccination — 32% of the roughly 208,000 doses distributed to the state, according to a Bloomberg tracker. That’s just above the national average (30%) of percent administered. Both vaccines approved for use require two shots taken several weeks apart.

WisContext offers these visualizations of Wisconsin COVID-19 statistics. New documented COVID-19 infections and test-positivity rates are far below their pre-Thanksgiving peak. The state is also seeing fewer COVID-19 patients hospitalized since mid-November, now hovering at mid-October levels. Public health officials continue to urge Wisconsinites to wear masks and practice physical distancing until vaccinations are more widely distributed.

Calculate your exposure risk

In Wisconsin, even small gatherings can carry a big risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tool that estimates the danger by the size of gathering and county in which it is held. Data scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University developed the tool, which you can find here.

Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us:

Bill Berry: Masks and cookbooks offer glimmers of hope through COVID-19 — Cap Times 

As a singer, EMT and nursing student, Shawn Holmes runs toward challenges of COVID-19 — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin COVID-19 Update may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them. We urge our readers to consider supporting these important news outlets by subscribing.

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