Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Oshkosh pandemic diary March 31: 12th positive test recorded; new estimate puts peak at end of April

Winnebago County Health Department
Another Winnebago County resident has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 12 as of Tuesday evening.

The county's updated breakdown of patients by age and gender shows that four of the patients are in their 50s, and one is over 80. Three are in their 40s, and two are in their 60s and two in their 70s.

Six are female, and six male.

The number of negative tests rose to 205, an increase of 22 from the day before, according to the county Health Department. 

The number of pending tests rose by 14 to 116.

The county said the count does not include data from the city of Menasha or the city of Appleton, which both extend into other jurisdictions.

Separately the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a statewide increase of 130 cases to a total of 1,351. A total of 16 Wisconsin residents have died from COVID-19.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Winnebago County residents continued to have a "C" grade for social distancing, according to an analysis from Unacast, a company that specializes in location data. The grade indicates that the average distance traveled, compared to earlier in the year, has fallen only 20 to 30 percent. Ten Wisconsin counties received "A" grades, indicating a decrease in travel of 40 percent or more.

The latest data from the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that COVID-19 will peak in Wisconsin during the middle part of this month, with 25 deaths on April 26 and 2,519 patients hospitalized on April 27.

These numbers show an earlier, and deadlier, peak than previous model results. Over the weekend, the institute's website showed that the disease would peak in Wisconsin during the middle part of May, with 13 deaths on May 14 and 1,358 patients hospitalized on May 22.

UW Oshkosh students provide e-tutoring
Hundreds of K-12 students across the country are taking advantage of tutoring services offered by teacher candidates from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and three other schools.

UW Oshkosh senior Bree Lamers, an elementary education major from Appleton, Wisconsin, said she feels lucky to help K-12 students with their academics during this challenging time.

“This project will allow me to continue to enhance my teaching skills as well as to make sure students are getting the necessary help that they need with their schoolwork at home,” she said. “Adapting to a situation as large as a pandemic isn’t easy. All of the tutors, including myself, will be able to discover new ways to teach students virtually.”

Lamers looks forward to building a connection with her students.

“Each tutor will continue to work with the same K-12 students throughout the rest of the semester, allowing us to build rapport—something that is key in education,” she said.

The initiative, started by St. Norbert College associate professor of education Bola Delano-Oriaran, includes St. Norbert, UW Oshkosh, UW-Stevens Point and Ripon College. Plans are underway to expand the effort to other colleges and universities in the Midwest.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Oshkosh pandemic diary March 30: Case count rises by 1; most are in their 50s; polling place to be moved

Winnebago County Health Department
One more Winnebago County resident has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 11 as of Monday evening.

The county also provided a breakdown of patients by age and gender. Four of the patients are in their 50s, and one is over 80. The other six are spread equally over their 40s, 60s and 70s.

Six are female, and five male.

The number of negative tests rose to 183, an increase of 24 from the day before, according to the county Health Department. 

The number of pending tests rose by six to 102.

The county said the count does not include data from the city of Menasha or the city of Appleton, which both extend into other jurisdictions.

Separately the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a statewide increase of 109 cases to a total of 1221. A total of 14 people have died from COVID-19.

In its daily COVID-19 bulletin, the city said a fourth polling place has been changed temporarily as District 16 residents will vote at the Elks Lodge, 175 W. Fernau Ave. The other polling changes can be found here.

The hospital group that runs Mercy hospital in Oshkosh is urging expectant mothers to keep their pre-natal appointments.

"It's important that pregnant women keep their scheduled appointments, which are considered essential, especially with pregnancies considered high-risk," a spokesperson said Monday. "Our labor and delivery rooms are ready and reserved exclusively for moms when the time comes for delivery."

The hospital moved to a "virtual visitation" policy March 1, but will allow one visitor for women who are in labor. Mercy is part of the Ascension Wisconsin hospital group.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Oshkosh pandemic diary March 29: 2 more cases reported; social distancing decline is seen

Winnebago County Health Department

Two more Winnebago County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 10 as of Sunday evening.

The number of negative tests rose to 159, an increase of 23 from the day before, according to the county Health Department. 

The number of pending tests fell by 14 to 96.

The county said the count does not include data from the city of Menasha or the city of Appleton.

Separately the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a statewide increase of 123 cases to a total of 1112.  

A company that uses GPS data to estimate how much social distancing is happening has given Winnebago County a "C" as of an update March 28. This is a sharp drop from the "A" grade the county had as of Thursday.

As Oshkosh wonders how long this will go on, COVID-19 peak for Wisconsin projected for mid-May

Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
By Miles Maguire

A research institute funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is projecting that COVID-19 will peak in Wisconsin during the middle part of May, with 13 deaths on May 14 and 1,358 patients hospitalized on May 22.

These numbers come from the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which said it based its model on data from the World Health Organization, state and local governments and other observations.

The institute projects a total of 853 Wisconsin deaths through Aug. 3. As of Sunday afternoon, the state is reporting 13 deaths and a total of 1,112 cases.

“The projections assume the continuation of strong social distancing measures and other protective measures,” the institute said.

For the country as a whole the institute anticipates 81,114 deaths through Aug. 3.

This number is more conservative than the one offered Sunday by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci said the models he has looked at show the national death toll growing to between 100,000 and 200,000.

The IHME model indicates that Wisconsin will not run out of standard hospital beds even when the pandemic crests. The model predicts that statewide 1,358 beds will be needed with 5,364 available in mid-May.

At the same time, there would be a shortage of 30 intensive care units and a shortage of 109 ventilators, according to the institute.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Oshkosh pandemic diary March 28: 8th case reported

Winnebago County Health Department
Another Winnebago County resident has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to eight as of Saturday evening.

The number of negative tests rose to 136, an increase of 13 from the day before, according to the county Health Department. 

The number of pending tests fell by 2 to 110.

The county said the count does not include data from the city of Menasha.

Separately the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a statewide increase of 149 cases to a total of 989.  

Oshkosh's homeless population issues call for help as pandemic puts added pressure on them, local shelters

Day By Day Warming Shelter photo
To maintain social distancing for its guests, Day By Day has expanded into the gym at the church site it uses.

By Joseph Schulz
Local homeless shelters, forced to limit their use of volunteers while enforcing social distancing, are struggling to meet the needs of their guests, who are dealing with heightened instability now that public spaces have been closed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

"With public spaces closing, businesses restricted and local charities unable to bend any further, the opportunities for resources and support are disappearing every day," local homeless people said in an open letter to the community.

The Day by Day Warming Shelter sent the letter, signed by “The Homeless of Oshkosh,” to some local media outlets to raise awareness for the circumstances facing the homeless community.

"We are lacking basic shelter during the day, access to resources to find aid and support, and compassion and humanity from our community," the letter said. "We hope that our message is heard because we are not sure how much longer we can ask."

Local homeless shelters are doing what they can, but the virus has caused them to lose personnel.

At the Day by Day Warming Shelter on High Avenue, Executive Director Matt Johnson said it had to suspend all volunteers from coming into the shelter to reduce the risk of someone bringing the virus into the facility.

Those volunteers would typically assist the staff in general shelter operations in the evening and morning, he said.

Beyond losing volunteers, the shelter has also lost staff. Some were college students and had to leave because UW Oshkosh sent students home, some left because of a lack of childcare and others left because they were in contact with people potentially infected with COVID-19, Johnson said.

"Our staff go through about 40 hours of training each season to work with our guests, and unfortunately that's not a staff that we can replace fairly quickly," he said.

Even with a limited staff, Day by Day continues to serve the homeless population as best it can, giving shelter from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day, Johnson noted.

At 6 p.m. each night, the shelter randomly hands out poker chips to the people waiting in line, 25 of those chips are marked. Those who receive a marked chip can spend the night in the shelter.

The shelter only has 25 beds available, and the lottery system is "the fairest possible solution available," Johnson said.

Day by Day has utilized social distancing as best it can, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facility, he added.

Day by Day has placed beds in its gym space to ensure six feet of space between beds, while eating spaces and social spaces are also spaced six feet apart, he said.

The shelter also has hand sanitizer throughout the facility, for both the guests and shelter staff, Johnson said. He added that the staff uses gloves when serving meals and providing other services.

For Johnson, it's essential to keep the shelter open because it's one of the few resources left for the city's homeless.

"We are the only resource that some of our guests have available to them for a form of immediate shelter," he said. "I wish that we could be operational 24 hours a day."

Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri said the city has had conversations with the Day by Day Warming Shelter in recent weeks, and that the shelter has been in contact with the city’s emergency operations center.

The city has given the shelter permission to stay open beyond its normal closing date of April 15, but “there’s only so much the city can do,” Palmeri said.

Johnson would ideally like to keep the shelter open beyond April 15, but at this point, he said Day by Day just doesn't have enough staff.

“At this point, we are viewing it as something that's too far in the distance to even consider because our staffing is changing on a daily basis,” Johnson said.

To learn more about how to help the Day by Day Warming Shelter, call (920) 203-4536 or visit www.warmingshelter.com/wish-list-immediate-needs.

An option that's open year-round is Father Carr's Place 2B on North Koeller Street, which has one shelter for men and another for women and children.

Those seeking shelter must fill out an application, have a valid form of ID and fill out a background check. The staff at Father Carr's then review the application and decide based on the results of the background check.

Father Carr's Executive Director John Nieman said the facility looks at every case individually, to ensure the safety of its staff, volunteers and residents.

He said the facility normally houses about 20 people, but it varies depending on the day and the number of volunteers available.

Despite the increased need for shelter among the homeless population, Nieman said Father Carr’s doesn’t currently have plans to relax its application process.

“The rules are there for a reason, like no smoking, no drinking, things like that,” he said. “We only have two paid staff here, so if two of our volunteers got sick or did not feel like coming in because of their immune system, we wouldn't have the manpower.”

Palmeri said Father Carr’s has a reputation for having strict requirements.

“It seems to me that this has been a chronic barrier,” she said. “Father Carr's, I believe, was reported to only be at [about] 40% capacity.”

The pandemic has limited operations at Father Carr’s as many of its volunteers are elderly, and those over 65 or with immune disorders have been advised to stay home, he said.

Because the shelter has rooms similar to a hotel, staff and volunteers ensure social distance is maintained in "shared spaces," such as the dining rooms, the laundry room and family lounge, Nieman said.

The shelter has also switched to all paper products during meals to ensure that germs aren't spread through dishes, he added.

In terms of the facility's Friday food pantry, volunteers are now directing traffic and loading groceries into people's cars to reduce close contact, Nieman said.

"There are people out there in need of food, and there are people that need a place to stay," he said. "I think it's important for agencies such as Day by Day, such as our agency, to be open as much as possible so we can care for all the needs."

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Father Carr’s Place 2B, call (920) 231-2378 or visit www.fathercarrs.org/volunteer-2.

Another organization working to help the homeless population in the Fox Valley is the Pillars Inc., a nonprofit that formed in 2018.

To address the increased need for shelter spurred by the pandemic, Pillars has opened its adult shelter on College Avenue in Appleton 24 hours a day, according to Donor Engagement Manager Ryne Lodl.

Beyond staffing the adult shelter 24/7, Pillars offers case management services, recovery coaches, support specialists and mental health services, Lodl said.

Many of the organization's volunteers are over 65 and have been asked to stay home, he said.

To compensate for the lack of volunteers, staff members have taken up many of the responsibilities that volunteers would generally have, such as serving meals and front desk help, he added.

The maximum capacity in the adult shelter is about 65 people, but to ensure social distancing it’s now only housing about 50 people at a time, Lodl said.

Lodl believes homeless shelters in the Fox Valley must remain open throughout the pandemic because they serve an especially vulnerable population.

"As long as we can continue to provide services and provide a place for them to stay, a safe shelter, we believe it's essential," he said. "By providing these services, we're continuing to monitor and take care of a very vulnerable population in our community."

To learn more about how to help Pillars Inc., call (920) 734-9192 or visit www.pillarsinc.org/get-involved.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Oshkosh pandemic diary March 27: County reports 7th case; emergency loans available; boat launches open

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
Another Winnebago County resident has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to seven as of Friday evening.

The number of negative tests rose to 123, an increase of 15 from the day before, according to the county Health Department. 

The number of pending tests rose by 27 to 112

The county added several caveats. First the count does not include data from the city of Menasha. It also noted that the statistics do not include patients with symptoms who were not tested. "Those with mild symptoms are most often directed to self-monitor at home without testing," the county said.


Emergency response loan fund launched

Starting with seed money of $300,000, the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. has launched the COVID-19 Emergency Response Loan Program, aimed at local businesses.

“We are offering assistance to Greater Oshkosh businesses to keep them financially solvent, maintain their workforce and enable them to get right back to business when this crisis abates,” said Jason White, CEO of GO-EDC. “It is our goal to mitigate the economic impact and maintain the presence of local businesses that make Oshkosh special.”

Loans will be offered in the amounts of $1,000, $2,500, $5,000, or $10,000 with a 3-year amortization, 2% interest, and deferment of principal and interest for six months. Funds can be used for basic business needs including rent/mortgage payments, utilities payments, payroll expenses, and pre-existing purchase orders.

Business owners that are interested in applying for funds from this or other assistance programs can go to www.greateroshkosh.com or email tricia.rathermel @ greateroshkosh.com for more details.

The organizers plan to work with private and public partners to increase the initial seed money.

Other programs that may help local businesses are offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.


Late fees suspended

The City of Oshkosh has suspended late fees for nonpayment of utility bills. While the City will not be charging late fees, customers are encouraged to continue to pay their utility bills by the due dates if possible.

Payments are to be made through the U.S. mail, electronically, or placed in the on-site exterior drop box at City Hall. In-person transactions at City Hall have been suspended.

“Residents and customers are encouraged to make payments by their due dates. However if they have to make difficult decisions like buying groceries for the family, I want them to know that if they delay in making their utility payment, there will be no additional late fees,” said Finance Director Russ Van Gompel.

If customers are experiencing difficulties, they should contact Ken Grabrielson, financial utility manager, to make payment arrangements or a payment plan.

For information on how to make online payments go to https://www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us/OnlineBillPay/


Evictions, foreclosures blocked

Gov. Tony Evers directed his administration to block landlords from evicting tenants or lenders from foreclosing on mortgages for 60 days.

“During this time individuals, families, and small businesses may see disruptions in paychecks due to losing hours, tips, business, or employment. This is another step we can take to prioritize the health and safety of Wisconsinites during this public health emergency,” said Gov. Evers.

“Evictions and foreclosures pose a direct and serious threat to the health and well-being of Wisconsinites, ensuring they are able to keep a roof over their heads and those in social services can prioritize assisting those who currently do not have shelter is critically important.”

This order does not relieve anyone’s obligation to pay rent or mortgages.


City provides guidances on boat launches, other facilities, events
The following is adapted from the city manager’s newsletter issued Friday:

Boat launches. City of Oshkosh boat launches will remain open and available for use at this time. Daily permits can be purchased at the individual boat launches for $5 per day. Annul and Multi-Year Boat Launch permits may be purchased through our online services: https://www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us/Parks/WebTrac/wbwsc/webtrac.wsc/wbsplash.html

Boat launch permits can still be purchased from Hergert Sport Center, 1232 N Sawyer Street and Fox River Bait and Tackle, 1415 Rainbow Drive. It is recommended that you call them before going to confirm that they are still open to the public and able to provide you with this service. Hergert Sport Center: (920) 231-8520. Fox River Bait and Tackle: (920) 233-7409.

Shelter reservations. The Parks Department has made the decision to tentatively plan for park shelters to be available for public use beginning May 15, 2020. This date may change depending on the COVID-19 situation. Park shelter reservations are currently being accepted and can be made through the city's online service at: https://www.ci.oshkosh.wi.us/Parks/WebTrac/wbwsc/webtrac.wsc/wbsplash.html, or by calling Oshkosh Parks Department at (920) 236-5080.

Park restrooms. Park restrooms will tentatively be opened on Friday, May 1, 2020. This is subject to change depending on the COVID-19 situation at that time.

Special events. All Common Council approved special events scheduled through the month of April have been canceled.

A note to readers--UPDATED


The Oshkosh Examiner is planning to switch to a different publishing platform by the end of this weekend. When the transition is complete, our homepage will be found at www.oshkoshexaminer.com.

That URL currently redirects to a slightly different site: newsfeed.oshkoshexaminer.com.

We hope that the new platform provides a better reading experience, with easier to read type, and an improved experience for mobile devices.

Email subscribers may experience a temporary disruption, but we will do our best to restore that service as quickly as possible.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Pandemic diary for March 26: UWO seeks to raise emergency funds to assist struggling students

Source: Winnebago County Health Department

UW Oshkosh alumnus has offered a $50,000 matching grant to help the school raise emergency funds for students affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Reduced work hours or the outright loss of jobs has put many students in a bind, the university said. Students are also transitioning to online courses, which may put a strain on their personal technology.

“UWO students have reached out to me personally and shared the hardships they are facing,” said Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “This emergency fund will help sustain our students and keep them on the path toward a degree.”

The fundraising campaign has been titled “Titans Rise” and was launched Monday, raising more than $7,400 as of Thursday evening.

The money will “help support critical programs, scholarships and emergency funds,” the university said.

Go here for more information.


Overall the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by 18 to a total of 199 as of Thursday evening.

The number of pending tests rose by fourteen while negatives went up by four.

The number of positive tests remained at six.

Winnebago County is doing better on social distancing, according to an online tool developed by a company called Unacast that specializes in location data. Unacast says it can use GPS data to track movement of individuals.

Earlier this week, when the tool was released, Winnebago County received a B, indicating that residents had made a 30% to 40% cut in their travels. As of Thursday, the decline in travel, compared to pre-COVID-19 data, was in the A category, signifying a cut of at least 40%.

The city announced that the polling place for students has been changed, from the now shuttered Reeve Union. The new location is St. John’s Church at 808 N. Main St., although officals are still encouraging absentee over in person balloting.

Bayland calls Oshkosh arena a 'sinking ship,' lists problems it sees with reorganization plan

Two hearings next month will determine the future of the Menominee Nation Arena's finances.

By Miles Maguire
The contractor that built the Menominee Nation Arena has called the project a “sinking ship” in a move that threatens to derail the efforts of the facility's owner to maintain control.

In legal papers Bayland Buildings Inc. says that it is not satisfied with the plan of reorganization filed by Fox Valley Pro Basketball Inc., the project developer and current owner of the arena. Bayland also says that it does not want Fox Valley to maintain the exclusive right to determine how its finances can be fixed.

Bayland is by far the largest creditor of the arena, with an outstanding claim of $13 million.

In its court filing, Bayland says it is ready to pull the plug on the efforts to keep the arena afloat. The company is no longer willing to allow the arena operator to make minimal payments “so that debtor can use what little cash it has to keep its sinking ship afloat.”

On March 4 Fox Valley asked the court for an extension of time, until June 29, to allow it to maintain its exclusive right to win acceptance of its reorganization plan. But Bayland is objecting to this extension, and a hearing is scheduled for April 8.

Evan Schmit, an attorney for Fox Valley, said the developer is prepared to fight back. Bayland’s “objection does not address the relevant considerations for the extension,” Schmit said.

“Bayland is unhappy with the proposed treatment and attempting to gain leverage through the objection for more favorable terms at the expense of the unsecured creditors,” he said. “We will address the specifics in a formal reply filed with the court.”

Bayland says that it has only received $76,121.20 since Fox Valley went into bankruptcy last year.

“This equates to an average monthly interest payment of about $12,686.86 per month--an interest rate of just over 1%,” Bayland said.

Fox Valley, owned primarily by local financial adviser Greg Pierce, filed its plan of reorganization Feb. 28. The developer’s proposal turns on its ability to get a cash infusion by selling off its rights to a future stream of tax incentives from the city.

But it was unable to find a long-term lender to take over the mortgage on the property from Bayland.

Bayland said it found at least half a dozen things wrong with the proposed reorganization plan, including the 30 years it would take for the arena to settle its debts.

The contractor also challenged the claim that operations at the arena have moved into the black. Bayland said financial disclosures show the facility has had a negative cash flow, a decline in cash balances and a growing list of bills that have not been paid on a timely basis.

Then came the coronavirus.

“Given Gov. Evers’ March 17, 2020, order regarding mass gathering restrictions, it is likely that debtor will not be able to make any adequate protection payments in the coming months,” Bayland said. “Adequate protection payments” are sums paid to creditors to shield their collateral from a loss of value during the bankruptcy process.

Bayland also cast doubt on the idea that more time would allow Fox Valley to negotiate a better deal. “Debtor has had ample opportunity to negotiate with Bayland, and has made little progress in doing so,” the builder said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemic diary for March 25: A sixth county case is reported, a billing break for uninsured patients

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
According to the latest information from the Winnebago County Health Department, the total of positive tests has risen to six from five as of March 25.

Overall the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by 21 to a total of 181 as of Wednesday evening.

The number of pending tests rose by seven while negatives went up by 13.

Ascension Wisconsin, which operates the larger of Oshkosh's two hospitals, said that uninsured patients will not be billed for COVID-19 related testing or treatments.

It adopted these additional policies:
  • Patients who are insured will not be billed for out-of-pocket expenses (ex: copays) related to COVID-19 testing or treatment.
  • Financial assistance applications will be valid for one year to reduce the burden of re-application
  • Our payment grace period has been extended to four months (120 days). Patients who are unable to make their monthly payments, should call the number listed on their billing statement to have a hold placed on their account.

The city of Oshkosh sent out clarifications about how the safer-at-home directive will be enforced:

  • You do not need any special permission or documentation to be out and about. But please stay home unless absolutely necessary.
  • Businesses DO NOT need to provide their employees any documentation for them to get to work.

How Oshkosh workers, employers are coping in the face of required closures, soaring unemployment

Graphic by Joseph Schulz
By Joseph Schulz

The coronavirus pandemic has left workers in a state of disarray as steps to slow the spread of the virus have led to mass layoffs and a spike in unemployment applications in Wisconsin.

As schools switch to remote learning, nonessential businesses close, and dine-in services and mass gatherings are banned, unemployment claims in the state continue to mount.

Since March 15, there have been over 120,000 unemployment claims filed in the state, according to preliminary counts from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

For comparison, there were only about 10,000 unemployment claims filed over that same period last year, according to the DWD.

When the Oshkosh Area School District announced that it was closing beginning on March 16, Kobussen buses was forced to lay off about 100 workers, according to Bronson Enli, terminal manager for Kobussen in Oshkosh.

The company laid off bus drivers and bus attendants to keep the company solvent as it has loans that need to be paid, Enli said.

With buses not running, a lack of cash flow is hurting Kobussen as about half of the school districts the company serves are still paying them, he added.

The company is compensating workers for one and a half hours’ worth of pay for each morning and afternoon route, which Enli said is less than employees were making.

“As soon as school opens back up again, whether it’s this year or next year, all of our current employees will be welcomed back,” he said, adding that until then, employees are encouraged to file for unemployment.

Another business impacted by school closures is A’viands, UW Oshkosh’s food supplier. After the campus announced that it would be sending students home and switching to online classes for the remainder of the semester, A’viands furloughed about 150 workers, according to Debbie Albert, an A’viands spokesperson.

Oshkosh officials eye loan fund of more than $1 million to help small businesses hit by COVID-19 disruption

Oshkosh Media
The Oshkosh Common Council hears about plans to use public funds to help local small business.
By Miles Maguire
Local officials are racing to put together a revolving loan fund that could top $1million to assist small businesses that are facing financial catastrophe because of COVID-19.

At the end of Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, City Manager Mark Rohloff outlined the plans, which are still several weeks away from possible approval and implementation.

The funds would draw on existing loan programs from the city and the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp, with additional money from one of the city’s special tax districts and possibly from Winnebago County.

“The best analogy I have is we’re kind of in a desert, and we’re offering sips of water,” Rohloff said, “It’s not a ton of money, just enough to keep them going.”

Under a “safer-at-home” order that took effect Wednesday at 8.m. and runs until April 24, nonessential “businesses and operations must cease,” Gov. Evers said. Financial disruption caused by COVID-19 has already sent the economy into a tailspin and thrown thousands of people out of work.

The funds would be directed at businesses, not individuals, and would be loans, not grants. Money would be available both to businesses that are still operating and those that have temporarily closed their doors. It’s still up in the air whether nonprofit organizations would qualify.

“These would be short-term loans, bridge loans,” said Council Member Matt Mugeraurer. “This will help them keep the lights on, to keep going.”

Council Member Bill Miller said that he had been in contact with Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris and Sheriff John Matz. Miller reported that those officials were interested in contributing county funds.

“The urgency for cash flow is so evident that we don’t want to delay too much,” Rohloff said. “We’re going to need council action.” The council’s next scheduled meeting is April 14.

The major source of money would come from the tax increment district that was set up to subsidize the development of the 100 block of North Main Street. The district was established in 2001 and was scheduled to close out next year with a fund balance of more than $500,000, according to city planning documents.

The fund balance could be used within a half-mile of the site, said Community Development Director Allen Davis. This area covers a large part of downtown.

Although details are still to be worked out, it appears that GO-EDC would be tapped to administer the program.

Davis said the city is looking at additional options in case the current business disruption continues. “We’re working on Plans B and C,” he said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus testing update: Where things stand in Winnebago County as of March 24

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
According to the latest information from the Winnebago County Health Department, the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by 11 to a total of 160 as of Tuesday evening.

The number of pending tests fell by three while negatives went up by 14.

The total of positive cases remained at five.

Oshkosh Corp. says local production continues as it suspends access equipment work in Pennsylvania

Oshkosh Corp. photo

One of the company's Joint Light Tactical Vehicles moves down the assembly line at a local factory.
This article has been updated with comment from the company.
By Miles Maguire
Oshkosh Corp. said Monday it is suspending production of access equipment in its Pennsylvania plants but is continuing work in its Wisconsin factories, which serve the defense and fire/emergency sectors.

“We continue to use CDC recommended safety procedures across the company and production continues in those segments at this time,” said Wilson R. Jones, Oshkosh’s president and CEO.

This situation could change, however. “Production at any of the company’s facilities may be further impacted as a result of possible government, market or company actions due to COVID-19,” Oshkosh said in a prepared statement.

"Per Gov. Evers’ mandate of 'Safer at Home,' Oshkosh Corp. and its businesses in Wisconsin are considered 'essential critical infrastructure' with designing and manufacturing essential equipment that supports critical business operations and helps ensure the safety and health of citizens and the economies where we do business," a company spokesperson said in an email.

"If our equipment or manufacturing expertise is called upon beyond our current products, we will do everything possible to help meet those critical needs," she added.

The current uncertainty has prompted Oshkosh to withdraw the estimates about its financial performance that it has previously provided to investors. “As a result of the evolving impact of COVID-19 on the economy, the company believes its financial results will be impacted, but the magnitude and timing of the impact is uncertain,” Oshkosh said.

Oshkosh Defense has four facilities locally. The company’s fire and emergency business has factories in Appleton, Neenah and Kewaunee as well as two in Florida.

Oshkosh says it employs a total of about 15,000. More than 3,700 work in Oshkosh, the company said. Statewide its employment is more than 6,500.

The company’s other major line is its commercial business, which has plants in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Jones said production in this sector is also continuing.

Regarding access equipment, Jones said “customers are modifying their delivery requirements.” The company is also considering the possibility of declining demand and disruptions in its supply chain.

“We have decided to suspend access equipment production in North America on March 30 with current plans to resume production on April 13,” Jones said. “JLG and Jerr-Dan team members will continue to support their customers with aftermarket parts and service as essential field operations remain open.” 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus testing update: Where things stand in Winnebago County as of March 23

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
According to the latest information from the Winnebago County Health Department, the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by nine to a total of 149 as of Monday evening.

The number of pending tests rose by two while negatives went up by seven.

The total of positive cases remained at five.

Oshkosh leaders look for ways to keep local democracy functioning with absentee voting, virtual meetings

By Miles Maguire
From absentee voting to virtual public meetings, Oshkosh leaders are looking for ways to keep local democracy functioning in the face of the coranavirus pandemic.

On Monday the city launched a campaign for 100% absentee voting by mail in next month’s election. The campaign is called “It’s as Easy as 1-2-3” to emphasize the ease with which citizens can vote this way. 

A key concern is that many poll workers are retirees, which places them in a high-risk category if they come down with COVID-19. If all voting is done by mail, the poll workers will not face repeated potential exposures from citizens casting their ballots in person. 

Absentee ballots can be requested by mail or online. They have to be postmarked by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7, or can be delivered through the dropbox at City Hall. The list of local candidates can be found here.

Meanwhile local leaders are looking for ways to maintain public participation in policymaking as they move to close meetings while trying to keep open channels for public access and comment.

UW Oshkosh students respond in large numbers to call for help in housing coronavirus patients on campus

The university expects that only one of its residence halls and about 100 to 200 rooms will be needed.
By Joseph Schulz
UW Oshkosh has received more than 100 responses, most of them from students, to its call for volunteers in case the campus is selected to house coronavirus patients.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Chancellor Andrew Leavitt described the campus response to his request for volunteers, which was issued Sunday.

He said that the university would house patients from within the Fox Valley and that UW Madison and UW-Milwaukee are also being eyed to house patients.

Conversations about UWO being used to house COVID-19 patients began last Thursday, and by Saturday the state asked the university if its facilities could be used, he said.

It’s unclear which residence halls will be used to house patients, but Leavitt said they’re all being cleaned and prepped for potential use.

The university anticipates that only one residence hall will be needed, with about 100 to 200 rooms, he noted.

Leavitt added that the two main residence halls the university is eyeing for use are Horizon Village and the Gruenhagen Conference Center.

He concluded the call by saying these are unprecedented times, and that he’s heartened by the community’s response to his call for volunteers.

“I think that’s a testament to what we’re doing these days and we all have to come together as a community to beat this thing,” Leavitt said.

Oshkosh doctor warns that coronavirus situation is worse than what Winnebago County stats show

Source: Scientific Animations via Wikimedia Commons
This article been updated with comments from the county Health Department.
By Miles Maguire
A local doctor is warning over social media that the COVID-19 situation in Winnebago County is much worse than what is reflected in official statistics.

“DON”T BELIEVE THE NUMBERS OF ONLY 5 Cases in Winnebago,” Dr. Jennifer Norden wrote in a Facebook post Monday morning. "Itʼs way more than that.”

As of Sunday evening, the county Health Department reported 140 COVID-19 tests administered. While half of these have come back as negative, 65 are still pending.

"With a number of tests pending and knowledge that not all persons are tested, it is reasonable to assume there are more cases in Winnebago County than what is currently confirmed by laboratories," said county Health Director Doug Gieryn.

"At this time, the Health Department is only notified of tests ordered by physicians and the results of those tests as they become available," he said. "The Health Department is not informed when a physician advises self-quarantine or suspects COVID-19 illness without testing."

“Every day COVID testing rules change, but everyday there is not enough testing to know how many fires we have in the Fox Valley,” Norden warned.

“Hospitals are scrambling to create more inpatient rooms, isolation rooms, gather and conserve PPE, ventilators and get ready for what’s sure to come.”

Norden’s full post can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/jen.norden.1/posts/4234801793211929

Gieryn emphasized the importance of community members following the new "safer at home" order announced today by Gov. Evers.

"We urge our community to take the necessary steps to physically distance from others," Gieryn said.

He added: "Do not go out in public unless absolutely necessary for food, medical care or other essential needs. We must all do our part to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents and not overwhelm our healthcare system resources. By not staying away from others, we undermine all the effort and economic sacrifice so many are making at this time."

Norden works at ThedaCare Physicians in Neenah and specializes in internal medicine. She has lived in Oshkosh since 1999.

Norden urged residents to heed the advice for residents to stay home if at all possible. She wrote:

If you are in high risk groups—STAY HOME and limit contact with others to those who also STAY HOME.
If you are not in high risk groups—STAY HOME so you don’t infect people.
I hear teenagers are still getting together in large group—please don’t. Parents—don’t let them. One other person for a walk outdoors is safe.
I hear young children are still being taken to playgrounds—please don’t.
If you are a business owner—CLOSE if your services are non-essential
If your services are essential, make sure your vulnerable employees are not in contact with people or high risk places.
If your business can be repurposed to make face shields, face masks, ventilators, oxygen tanks, etc PLEASE do it. If we act like this NOW, we may have a chance of not overwhelming our local hospitals. Everyday that we don’t take these measures, the virus spreads like invisible fire and things will be much worse—both medically and economically.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coronavirus testing update: Where things stand in Winnebago County as of March 22

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
According to the latest information from the Winnebago County Health Department, the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by 14 to a total of 140 as of Sunday evening.

The number of pending tests rose by six while negatives went up by eight.

The total of positive cases remained at five.

UWO selected as potential site to house coronavirus patients; campus volunteers sought

UW Oshkosh has a total of 10 residence halls, including Horizon Village.

By Miles Maguire
UW Oshkosh residence halls may be used to house coronavirus patients, according to an email sent Sunday morning by Chancellor Andrew Leavitt.

"UW Oshkosh has been selected as a potential location to house people who have contracted the coronavirus," he wrote. "We are working closely with leaders in the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the UW System to determine the best locations on our Oshkosh campus for this to occur."

Using a Harvard model for hospitalizations, the Oshkosh Examiner has reported that the city does not have nearly enough beds to handle a full-blown outbreak of COVID-19.

State agencies "are exploring alternative care sites around the state and reaching out to university communities like ours for volunteers to help cities and regions prepare for the potential number of COVID-19 patients to exceed capacity in hospitals," Leavitt said.

Under current plans "any patients housed on the Oshkosh campus would be those with mild illness and would be housed in our vacant residence halls," Leavitt said. 

Coronavirus testing update: Where things stand in Winnebago County as of March 21

Source: Winnebago County Health Department
According to the latest information from the Winnebago County Health Department, the count of COVID-19 tests administered locally went up by 21 as of Saturday evening.

The number of pending tests rose by seven while negatives went up by 14.

The total of positive cases remained at five.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Oshkosh community leaders step up to support local small businesses as COVID-19 pushes customers away

Photo by Joseph Schulz
The emptiness of Oshkosh's downtown at 9 a.m. Friday, March 20, demonstrates the effects of COVID-19.
By Joseph Schulz
As local businesses begin to feel the financial strain of the coronavirus outbreak, community leaders are stepping up to provide a helping hand.

The Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp., the Oshkosh Convention & Visitors Bureau, The Chamber of Commerce and the city of Oshkosh are all working to reduce the burden placed on local businesses by the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

GO-EDC's Revolving Loan Fund Committee has suspended all principal and interest payments for current loan recipients through the Greater Oshkosh Revolving Loan Fund and Greater Oshkosh Capital Catalyst Fund for three months, according to a press release.

Additional suspensions could occur, as GO-EDC will evaluate the situation month to month, the release noted. GO-EDC's loans were established to fill "lending gaps" for businesses and startups in the area and are managed by GO-EDC, the release added.

Jason White, the CEO of GO-EDC, said suspending loan payments gives businesses a little breathing room to help them ride out the economic downturn.

"We believe that they don't need one more headache," White said. "There's about a hundred things that each business is going to worry about right now."

Some businesses have already closed and no longer have any revenue, while others are dealing with reduced revenues from the state's order banning dine-in service at bars and restaurants, he said.

White added that in five years, none of the businesses that have taken loans out with GO-EDC have ever missed a payment and that this is the organization's way of giving back.

"Everyone's world came to a crashing halt in the last couple of days, and everyone's kind of in survival mode right now waiting to see what happens next," White said. "I think for our part, we've been trying to make sure that our toolbox is filled with tools."

One of those tools is getting businesses prepared to apply for economic injury disaster loans when they become available, White noted.

GO-EDC has been helping businesses send information to Gov. Tony Evers, showing that they've suffered an economic injury.

White said GO-EDC wants to ensure that when the time is right, businesses can "pull the lever" and apply.

That time may be soon approaching, as on Wednesday Evers submitted a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a declaration to assist businesses in the form of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

"Surveys of businesses over the past several days, as well as inquiries into our Joint Incident Command, illustrate that the COVID-19 incident has had a significant impact on a variety of businesses within Wisconsin," Evers' request read.

If the governor's request is approved, businesses can start submitting applications for low-interest loans up to $2 million to help overcome the financial downturn spurred by the pandemic.

Beyond GO-EDC's efforts, the CVB has created a "what's open in Oshkosh" list on its website that's updated as often as possible.

CVB Executive Director Amy Albright said the list is meant to help businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.

"We're just trying to do our part to encourage people to support local at this time as much as possible," she said.

The list is updated hour by hour because the CVB is trying to be a resource for local businesses as they go through a period of financial uncertainty, Albright added.

Beyond CVB's efforts, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce started a Bar and Restaurant Emergency Micro Loan program to help chamber member businesses impacted by the ban on dine-in services, according to the loan application.

The chamber has made $60,000 available for the program, and eligible businesses can receive up to $2,500, the application states.

Loans will be extended with an interest rate of 3.5% with an interest-free period; payments will start on Oct. 1 and will consist of $100 per month for 26 months, the application noted.

Rob Kleman, the chamber's senior vice president for economic development, said the program mirrors a similar program implemented in 2010 when Main Street was undergoing reconstruction.

"Many businesses are being impacted by the coronavirus," Kleman said. "This is for a targeted group that's really feeling it right now."

Beyond offering loans, the chamber is also trying to connect workers with resources to ease the burden of losing a job due to the outbreak, said Patti Andresen-Shew, education and talent development director for the chamber of commerce.

The chamber is trying to include information about how to collect unemployment, and other resources for people out of work on its website, she said.

"Whenever the state comes out with information, we're making sure that we get it on the chamber website," Andresen-Shew said.

Both GO-EDC and the chamber are lobbying lawmakers to help ease the burden on workers and businesses, according to White and Kleman.

One of the thing's being lobbied for is a waiver of the one week wait period to collect unemployment, White said.

"I think that's step one, to make that assistance immediately available to folks," White said.

Another item being lobbied for is more leniency for companies that owe money to their lenders, he added.

"Hopefully, the Senate and Congress as a whole will adopt [those items], and the president will sign them," White said.

Kleman added that the chamber sent communications to Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, seeking relief for local businesses.

In terms of the local government response, City Manager Mark Rohloff, at the March 18 Oshkosh Common Council meeting, said he's been working with local economic development groups to look at ways the city can help local businesses weather the storm.

He said the city may ease zoning regulations on a short-term basis to help restaurants with drop-offs and pick-ups.

The city will also look at potentially giving restaurants and bar owners a 90-day extension on liquor licensing fees. Rohloff said he would see if licensing deadlines depend on state regulation, or if it's something the city has the power to extend.

"If we've got flexibility, I think we ought to look at it," Rohloff said. "We ought to be looking at any type of flexibility during this time."

Kleman said it's been remarkable to see so many groups come together to support Oshkosh's small business community.

"There are so many organizations coming together to try to help businesses and individuals work through these challenging times," he said. "We're all working together. We have to get through this and work hard to come out on the other side of things."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Despite dire forecast, 'Event City' planners are doing their best to keep summertime gatherings on track

The homepage of the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau includes a link for COVID-19 updates.
By Joseph Schulz
On Monday President Donald Trump said the coronavirus outbreak could last until summer, and if it does, Oshkosh's economy could lose millions of dollars.

Oshkosh has earned the nickname "Event City" for its plethora of summertime events. Events include EAA's AirVenture, which draws roughly 700,00 aviation enthusiasts a year, as well as music festivals such as Rock USA, Country USA and Lifest.

Currently, those events are scheduled to go on as planned. Still, event coordinators are cautiously paying attention to recommendations from local health departments.

In terms of how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect the local tourism economy, Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Amy Albright said the CVB is trying not to speculate.

"This is something that is really uncharted territory," she said. "This is nothing that anybody in the tourism industry across the world has experienced before."

The CVB is examining the situation in two-week chunks to consider what needs to be canceled, she added.

In terms of EAA AirVenture, EAA Communications Director Dick Knapinski said the event has the "luxury of time."

"Nobody knows where we will be by the end of May, much less in June or July," he said, adding that EAA is trying to look at the situation rather than think about "what ifs."

This year wouldn't be the first time AirVenture faced possible cancellation. Last year, a heavy rain before opening day forced event planners to scramble, and in 2010 Oshkosh had about 10 inches of rain the week before AirVenture, making the campgrounds "unusable," Knapinski said.

The air traffic controller's strike of 1981 almost put a damper on the event as well, but he said the situation is different this time.

"Nobody for sure can predict what will happen two months from now," Knapinski said.

AirVenture injects roughly $170 million into the Fox Valley economy each year, and EAA will be monitoring what other significant summer events in the state are doing and communicating with local health officials before deciding to close, Knapinski added.

Two of those events are Country USA and Rock USA, which are, as of now, going on as planned, according to a press release.

Event organizers could not be reached for comment, but the release added that "with nearly three months until CUSA, and four months until RUSA, the situation now could be drastically different."

Another festival that's still planning to go on as planned is Lifest, an annual Christian music festival.

Festival Director John Dougherty said Lifest is monitoring information coming from the CDC and the city of Oshkosh.

Last year Lifest brought in roughly $6 million to the local economy and canceling the event would negatively impact the local economy, Dougherty added.

"That's why for everything that we can do, we're going to attempt to move forward as planned with our event," he said. "But obviously, we can't predict the future."

In terms of the likelihood that any of Oshkosh's signature summertime events will face cancellation, Albright said everything's still up in the air.

"It's uncharted territory, even the CEO of Hilton Hotels said that in 35 years of being in the hospitality business, he's never seen anything like this."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

As Oshkosh council meets, Winnebago County says covid-19 cases have increased by two to a total of five

Oshkosh Media
The Oshkosh Common Council practices social distancing at its March 18 meeting.

By Miles Maguire
The Winnebago County Public Health Department reported two additional cases of covid-19 Wednesday evening.

"The two new cases were linked to one of the first three cases reported," the county said. "The health department is following up to identify all close contacts."

Despite the increase, "there is currently no evidence of community transmission in Winnebago County," the department said. 

The news of the additional cases came by email while the Oshkosh Common Council was meeting in a special session to ratify the state of emergency previously declared by City Manager Mark Rohloff.

At the meeting Oshkosh Fire Department Chief Mike Stanley outlined steps that the city is taking to maintain operations while preparing for contingencies. Stanley serves as the city's emergency management director.