CHIPPEWA FALLS — Jerry and Mary Kuehl said they were humbled and honored to be selected as the festmeister and festmeisterin of the 2021 Oktoberfest. As the royal couple, they served as ambassadors of the weekend event, spreading cheer and handing out buttons.
“Our kids have grown up up here,” Jerry Kuehl told a crowd numbering 400 at the kickoff ceremony noon Friday at Leinenkugel Brewing Company. “They learned to polka in the tents. The great thing about Oktoberfest is it’s a family-friendly event. It’s helped us grow in the German faith and culture.”
Jerry Kuehl, 57, has worked at Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls for 28 years, and serves on a variety of boards and organizations, such as the Chippewa Falls Rotary, the St. Francesca food pantry, the Children’s Museum, and the Chippewa Falls Economic Development Committee. Mary Kuehl, also 57, works at an area medical facility. They married in 1989, and have two grown children who attended McDonell-Central High School and one grandchild.
The Kuehls have been attending the annual September festival since its inception, saying they have only missed perhaps twice.
“We’re both German,” Mary Kuehl said. “The music is really top-notch. And it’s fun to see the little ones dance.”
Bill Febry, the first-ever Festmeister in 2003, serves on a select committee that chooses the royal couple. He informed the Kuehls they were selected in February.
“They are community-minded people,” Febry said. “It fits who we are looking for in royalty.”
Dick Hebert, the 2007 festmeister, offered similar words of praise for the Kuehls.
“Great choice. They’ve been big supporters of Oktoberfest over the years, and active in the community,” Hebert said.
Ian Kopp, the 2016 festmeiester, said Kuehl used to be his boss.
“He’s a wonderful man. They do a lot for the community and a lot of volunteering,” Kopp said.
Jerry Kuehl grew up in Port Edwards, in Wood County, and Mary Kuehl grew up in Eau Claire, but they are both proud to call Chippewa Falls their home.
“We are just blessed to be part of this community,” Jerry Kuehl said.
Secrecy in selection
The selection of the royal couple is a well-kept secret; only about five people know who is chosen in advance of the big reveal each year. That presented a challenge for the Kuehls, who had many friends ask them if they were this year’s royalty.
“The hard part is when you are questioned, because you don’t want to be deceitful,” Jerry Kuehl said. “Part of the mystique is the secrecy.”
Mary Kuehl added: “Keeping it quiet is part of your duty.”
Hebert said the guessing game has become part of the Oktoberfest tradition.
“You always guess,” Hebert said. “Most of the time, you are wrong.”
Nearly all of the royal couples since the event began were on hand Friday; with two families missing, and one festmeisterin, Carol Gienapp, now deceased.
Oktoberfest typically draws 14,000 patrons over the course of the weekend; numbers from this year weren’t available yet.
Since the beginning of Oktoberfest in 2003, the Planning Committee has donated more than $345,000 to local community groups and non-profits, including $20,000 last November from the 2018 event.
CHIPPEWA FALLS — For the first time since COVID-19 vaccinations began, Rusk County is among the leaders in western Wisconsin in first-time doses.
In the past week, Rusk and Trempealeau counties each saw a 0.7% increase among people receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were the only counties in western Wisconsin to top the state’s rate in the past week. Only 36.9% of Rusk County’s residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccination; the county is joined by nearby Clark and Taylor counties as the only areas of the state to have not reached the 40% threshold.
Meanwhile, Rusk County recorded its 28th virus-related fatality on Friday. The county only had 17 virus-related deaths as of June 1 and 11 deaths since; thus, roughly 39% of their total deaths have come since June 1, when vaccinations were readily available across the state.
Rusk County’s 11 deaths since June 1 is more than Eau Claire County (8), St. Croix County (8), Chippewa County (9) or Dunn County (7), despite having fewer residents.
Rusk County is now averaging 197.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, the highest death rate of a dozen western Wisconsin counties, and well ahead of the state’s average of 134.4 deaths per 100,000 residents.
According to the Department of Health Services, about 0.5% of all state residents received their first COVID-19 vaccination last week. That is up slightly from a 0.4% increase last week, but down from a 0.8% increase two weeks ago.
Among counties in western Wisconsin, Buffalo and Barron counties matched the state’s 0.6% increase, while eight other counties were between a 0.3& and 0.5% increase, falling further behind the state’s overall rate.
Eau Claire (56.3% of its residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine) and Trempealeau (60.1%) counties are ahead of the state’s overall 56.0% rate. Chippewa, St. Croix and Buffalo counties are the only other areas in western Wisconsin that have reached the 50% threshold. Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, there are 45 that have crossed the halfway mark for vaccination among their populations. In the past week, Burnett, Polk and Green Lake counties crossed the 50% mark.
With Waushara County crossing the 40% threshold this week, it leaves just Taylor (31.4%), Clark (32.7%) and Rusk (36.9%) as the last counties below that mark.
Meanwhile, Dane County continues to lead the state, at 73.3% of the population with at least one dose, up 0.4% from a week ago.
Wisconsin has now given the first dose of the vaccine to 3.26 million (56.0%) residents, up from 3.23 million residents (55.5%) last week, and up from 3.2 million people (55.1%) two weeks ago.
Roughly 3.07 million Wisconsinites (52.8%) have completed their vaccine series, up from 3.03 million (52.2%) a week ago.
However, Wisconsin continues to lag behind the national vaccination rate. About 63.6% of all U.S. residents have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, including 76.2% of all adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 54.4% of all Americans have completed their vaccine series, the CDC reports.
About 67.0% of all adult Wisconsin residents (ages 18 and older) have now received at least one vaccine dose, up from 66.5% last week. Eau Claire (65.9%), Chippewa (62.4%) and Dunn (51.6%) counties all trail the state’s rate for adult vaccinations.
Roughly 85.2% of Wisconsin’s seniors (age 65 and up) have now received at least one dose, and 72.9% of those ages 55 to 64 have also received their first dose.
In a breakdown by race, 55.6% of Asian Americans have received their first dose statewide, with the white population at 50.8%, American Indian population at 40.1%, and Black population at 33.2%. About 11.6% of people who have been vaccinated didn’t report their race or selected “other.”
CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa Falls School District is requiring everyone entering their buildings to wear masks, effective immediately, regardless of age or vaccination status. The change comes as nearly 10% of students in the district are out of building because of illness or isolation/quarantine.
Superintendent Jeff Holmes sent a letter to parents Friday night, explaining that COVID-19 virus cases have risen significantly in schools across the district and warranted the change to occur when students return to classes today.
The district had already moved to “Level 3” last week, which meant no visitors to school buildings or field trips, and an increased effort to create social distancing.
“I now believe that we need to add mask-wearing to Level 3 to determine if that additional mitigation measure alone can make a difference in reducing spread in our settings,” Holmes wrote.
In the first week of school, ending Friday Sept. 3, there were 3 elementary students in isolation or quarantine, 13 in middle school, and 16 in high school. By Friday Sept. 10, that had jumped to 67 students in elementary schools, 76 in the middle school, and 83 in high school.
Holmes said those students out of classes jumped this week, with 167 elementary students, 123 in middle school, and 192 in high school in quarantine or isolation.
“The (district) has 66 total reported cases of students currently infected with COVID, which has led to 482 total students currently being contact-traced/isolated by (the Chippewa County Department of Public Health),” Holmes wrote. “During the 2020-21 school year, only two outbreaks in the county could be attributed to (Chippewa Falls school) settings. As of today and only three weeks into the 2021-22 school year, we believe it is necessary to let everyone know that we were officially notified by the county that three outbreaks are currently attributable to CFAUSD.”
The district has 4,918 students K-12, according to a report included in their board meeting agenda packet this week.
Holmes said the number of outbreaks and students out of school means masks are warranted indoors; masks will remain optional when people are outdoors.
“As explained on numerous occasions, (the district) can not be perceived as an organization that is a major contributor to community spread,” he wrote. “While we certainly are cognizant of, sympathize for, and empathize with the issues, pro and con, associated with mask-wearing in school settings, we believe it is necessary at this time. Everyone’s patience, understanding, and cooperation with this determination are greatly appreciated. Based upon everything we have experienced over the past year and a half, masks will help us stay in-person longer than doing otherwise and a major goal for us is to remain in-person as long as possible.”
The district established six different levels for handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Level 3 calls for face masks to remain optional, but more robust mitigation measures will be in place, such as minimizing contacts, increased social distancing where possible, no visitors to buildings, and no field trips. Level 4 calls for mask mandates or orders in place when there is “dire community or school spread.” Level 5, if the district reaches that point, calls for implementing a hybrid learning model, with level 6 calling for online-only learning.
At her weekly COVID-19 news conference, Public Health Director Angela Weideman said that no one under age 18 is currently hospitalized in the county. Chippewa County now has 103 reported virus-related deaths — all but one person was unvaccinated, she added.