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Protest planned Saturday in EC

EAU CLAIRE — A peaceful protest of Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police is planned Saturday in Eau Claire.

The protest, which will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Randall Park, will include speeches and a march to the Eau Claire County Courthouse, according to a Facebook post by organizers.

Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was seriously injured after officers shot him multiple times, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV on Sunday while his three children sat in the vehicle. An onlooker’s cellphone video of the shooting has gone viral on social media and led to a new round of protests in Wisconsin and across the country in a summer of racial unrest.

Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a UW-Eau Claire history professor and organizer of local Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth celebrations, said she was saddened and disturbed by the latest high-profile police shooting of an African American. The protest is intended to call for police reforms that can make justice for all a reality, she said.

While Ducksworth-Lawton said her initial reaction to news of the shooting was not fit for a family newspaper, it ended with a simple sentiment: “Not again.”

“How many times do we have to do this before people get the fact that this is not about political ideology? This is about professionalism,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “It doesn’t matter what he did or how he did it. You don’t grab someone by the shirt and put seven shots in their back.”

The aggressive police response demonstrates the reason that many Black and brown individuals don’t call the police, she said, indicating the Kenosha police shooting hurts even more than others because it took place in Wisconsin.

“We need to protect everyone equally,” she said. “If we can take down white suspects without killing them, we can take down Black suspects without killing them.”

Ducksworth-Lawton also said she was disappointed by the hundreds of comments from people blaming Blake on the Facebook pages of local TV stations. Comments under a story headlined “Jacob Blake’s dad says son left paralyzed by police shooting” included “YOU DO WRONG YOU GET WHATS COMING TO YOU,” “Don’t resist...and you won’t be shot,” and “Well disobedience to the law will get you shot. No sympathy for him at all. Thank you officers for keeping us protected.”

“We can’t let people think that is what this community is,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “We are a community that believes in professionalism, believes in equality and believes that everybody should be treated the same.”

Ducksworth-Lawton, a member of the Eau Claire Police and Fire Commission who consults with the Eau Claire Police Department on racial bias issues, maintained the shooting appears to be a textbook example of a form of police training known as killology, which encourages officers to adopt a warrior mentality and desensitizes them to using deadly force.

Instead, she advocates evidence-based training, such as that used by the Eau Claire Police Department, which she said would have called for Blake to be taken to the ground.

“If Kenosha was doing what Eau Claire is doing, this wouldn’t have happened,” Ducksworth-Lawton said.

Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus confirmed the department prioritizes evidence-based training, based on clinical research, that teaches officers to focus on active listening to develop empathy and understanding as a de-escalation strategy.

Killology, by contrast, is a training model “with a mindset that runs counter to the values of the Eau Claire Police Department,” said Rokus, who declined to comment on the Kenosha incident.

Saturday’s protest in Eau Claire is being organized primarily by student social justice groups at UW-Eau Claire.

“We seek to demand justice for Jacob Blake, an innocent victim of white supremacy as enforced by the police, as well as show our solidarity with our comrades in Kenosha,” organizers said on Facebook.

The protest is open to all people “who want to see real social change here in the Valley and in the country as a whole,” the post states.

Organizers requested that all participants wear masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Abram Gillett, 11, of Eau Claire, played croquet Tuesday at Boyd Park in Eau Claire as part of RecRecess, a program of the city Parks and Recreation Department. Similar programs will be today at Newell Park and Thursday at Cameron Park. Both are from 10 a.m. to noon, and fee is $7. Face mask is required. View more photos at

Masks credited for falling U.S. virus cases, but testing lags

NEW YORK (AP) — The number of Americans newly diagnosed with the coronavirus is falling — a development experts say most likely reflects more mask-wearing but also insufficient testing — even as the disease continues to claim nearly 1,000 lives in the U.S. each day.

About 43,000 new cases are being reported daily across the country, down 21% from early August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While the U.S., India and Brazil still have the highest numbers of new cases in the world, the downward trend is encouraging.

“It’s profoundly hopeful news,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who credits the American public’s growing understanding of how the virus spreads, more mask-wearing and, possibly, an increasing level of immunity.

“Hopefully all those factors are coming into play to get this virus under control in this country that’s really been battered by the pandemic,” she said.

But insufficient testing is probably concealing the full extent of the crisis, said Dr. Jonathan Quick, who leads the pandemic response for the Rockefeller Foundation, which has recommended the U.S. test 4 million people a day by fall.

“We’re grossly under-testing in some of the places that are still having high caseloads,” Quick said, singling out Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and North Dakota as hot spots with high rates of positive test results.

Even at 43,000 new cases per day, the U.S. remains far above the numbers seen during the spring, when new daily cases peaked at about 34,000, he said.

“It’s a good trend, but nowhere near what we need to be,” Quick said of the recent decline.

The virus is blamed for more than 5.7 million confirmed infections and about 178,000 deaths in the U.S. Worldwide, the death toll is put at more than 810,000, with about 23.7 million cases.

Jeffrey Shaman, a public health expert at Columbia University, said he is skeptical enough people are immune to significantly slow the spread. But he agreed that changes in Americans’ behavior could well be making a difference, recalling the impact that people’s actions had in containing Ebola in West Africa several years ago.

“Ebola stopped for reasons we didn’t anticipate at the time. It was so horrifying that people stopped touching each other,” Shaman said. Something similar may be happening with the coronavirus, he said.

“I know I don’t have nearly the number of contacts that I used to,” Shaman said. “But if we relax that, if we get complacent, will we just see another outbreak?”

The decline in newly reported cases in the U.S. comes even as deaths from the virus remain alarmingly high. Officials have reported an average of 965 deaths per day from COVID-19 recently, down from 1,051 deaths a day in early August.

Deaths from the coronavirus are a lagging indicator — they trail new infections because of the time it takes for people to get sick and succumb to the disease.

The percentage of tests coming back positive for the disease has also declined over the past two weeks, from 7.3% to 6.1%. But that comes as the total number of tests administered has fallen from its August peak of more than 820,000 a day, leveling off in recent weeks at about 690,000 a day.

The situation has improved dramatically in several states that struggled with high caseloads earlier this summer.

In Arizona, for example, officials reported 859 new cases Tuesday, down from a peak of 5,500 in late June. More than 2,000 people arrived at the state’s hospitals showing symptoms of the virus on a single day in early July. This week, that number has been less than 1,000.

In Florida, where more than 10,000 people have died, the state reported 2,600 new virus cases Tuesday. Earlier in the summer, it was regularly reporting more than 10,000 new cases.

Malinda Coler, 37, of San Francisco, said she has been diligent about mask wearing and other preventive measures, less to protect herself than a best friend who has a compromised immune system, with severe arthritis psoriasis.

“So I wear a damned mask and get infuriated when others don’t,” she said.

Most states now have some type of mask requirement, either through statewide orders issued by governors or from city and county rules that cover most of their population.

Even some conservative governors have gone along with masks. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves mandated masks in all public places earlier this month, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dropped a lawsuit against Atlanta in a dispute over a requirement by the state’s largest city.

In Leeds, Alabama, Will Heath said he has seen greater adherence to mask rules around town, whether in stores or at his 5-year-old daughter’s cheerleading practice.

He and his wife, a nurse, have worn masks all along but said the attitude among others has shifted from “Even if I get it, I’ll be OK,” to “Let’s make sure we don’t give it to somebody else.”

“We have all been sort of operating under the assumption that we all have it or we’re going to get it eventually. So we want to make sure we don’t spread it,” Heath said.

Many places around the U.S. are seeing pockets of contagion, especially in college towns where students are holding parties and crowding into bars.

Over the past week, 531 students, faculty and staff at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa have tested positive for the virus, according to the school. Alabama said it tested nearly 30,000 students before classes began. The mayor of Tuscaloosa shut down bars for two weeks because of the spike, which could derail plans to continue the semester on campus.

The university is still moving ahead with fall sports in the football-crazed state, with plans to allow only about 20,000 fans at its 101,000-capacity stadium and a ban on tailgating. Coach Nick Saban weighed in on the virus Monday, urging people to wear masks.

“It’s not just about football. So, for people to make the right choices and decisions to wear their masks, do the things when they’re out publicly, respect the rules, respect the virus, that’s important,” he said.

It’s not clear what will happen to case numbers as more school districts bring students back to classrooms and colleges reopen their campuses. In recent weeks, schools including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State and Notre Dame have moved instruction online after outbreaks on their campuses.

Officials at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville said four students are facing disciplinary proceedings after three hosted off-campus parties with no mask or other distancing and another left isolation to meet with others despite testing positive for the virus.

“If the facts reported to the university are accurate, these students will face at least suspension from the university, and potentially greater penalties,” Chancellor Donde Plowman wrote.

Eau Claire shifts $350,000 in budget for COVID-19 costs

EAU CLAIRE — The city is tapping $350,000 from its general fund to pay higher elections costs and increased subsidies to public recreation and parking facilities that are tied to COVID-19.

During its Tuesday afternoon meeting, the City Council voted 11-0 to approve reallocating the money in its current budget to deal with the financial ramifications of the pandemic.

“The 2020 budget has been significantly impacted in certain areas due to COVID-19,” finance director Jay Winzenz told the council.

Among those is $70,000 in overtime and $30,000 in additional postage for the city’s elections office related to early and absentee voting. The majority of city voters used those methods to cast a ballot in the April election, and they’re anticipated to be popular again in the Nov. 3 election as people seek to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus by staying away from polling places on Election Day.

City Manager Dale Peters said between 8,000 and 12,000 voters are expected to cast a ballot in October using drive-thru voting stations behind City Hall in advance of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Councilwoman Emily Berge noted that states and cities are getting some aid for their increased elections costs through the federal coronavirus relief package known as the CARES Act.

The city will apply for those funds to help pay for elections expenses, but Winzenz noted those won’t help in areas where the city is coming up short on expected revenues.

Those areas include recreational facilities that have been closed to prospective users and parking that’s been underutilized while businesses were partially closed.

The municipal ice center — closed in March as the pandemic was declared, then used as a homeless shelter since April — got a boost to its subsidy. The $50,000 shifted to Hobbs Ice Center is intended to make up for lost revenue from hockey teams and ice skaters who were unable to use the building for a good portion of the year.

A combination of COVID-19 precautions and repairs kept Fairfax Park Pool closed for the entire summer, leading the city to boost its subsidy to the public pool by $100,000.

As most downtown Eau Claire businesses were closed during statewide safer-at-home orders, the city gave them a break on fees for contracts they have for using spots in downtown parking ramps. Tuesday’s council vote pushed $100,000 into the public parking fund to make up for that lost revenue.

These fund balance transfers used to fill a hole in the city’s operating budget are not typical, but Winzenz said they were employed due to the unique nature of dealing with a pandemic.

“These types of COVID-related expenditures are one-time in nature,” he said.

“Hopefully this will be the one and only pandemic we face in our lifetimes.”

Unrelated to COVID-19 but also approved in Tuesday’s vote, the city shifted $45,000 from its general fund into the tax increment financing district for the Water Street area. This represented half of what off-campus UW-Eau Claire dormitory Aspenson-Mogensen Hall, 222 Water St., paid for city services, per an agreement the city signed with Blugold Real Estate in 2019.

Early look at 2021

Winzenz also offered an early look at the city’s 2021 budget.

Even based on just maintaining the status quo for services and positions, there’s currently a $436,500 shortfall to start this year’s budget talks.

“I am confident that as a team we can all work together to present a balanced budget to the City Council, however, it may require some prioritization and difficult choices,” Winzenz wrote in a memo to the council.

The city usually does begin its annual budget talks with a shortfall figure, but the city manager is tasked with adjusting it to present a balanced budget proposal in early October.

“Between now and when city manager submits his budget, he’ll have the gap down to zero,” Winzenz said.

After Peters delivers his budget recommendations, the City Council will then deliberate on them for a few weeks before approving a 2021 budget in November.

Even with the early words of caution on the budget, council members already have expressed a desire for new positions and programs.

Chief among them is creating a city government position focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

“I think it’s really essential we look seriously at a full-time, permanent leadership position at the city to scope out changes at how we do this work,” Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said.

She’s advocated for the new position at prior meetings and gained support from fellow council members.

“The EDI is a fair start,” Councilwoman Mai Xiong said. “That person would really give the city an idea on how it should be operating.”

Xiong has also asked the city to consider creating a position that would be a liaison to Eau Claire’s Hmong population.

Peters replied that he’s heard the council express their interest in those two new jobs, as well as creating a program that would have social workers accompany police officers on certain emergency calls.

“We’re very aware of those three issues of interest from the council and doing what we can with them,” Peters said.

COVID questions

In his preview of the 2021 budget, Winzenz called it a “very tight budget,” but it’s not the biggest gap that city leaders have closed.

A year ago, the figure was $935,000 and the year before that the budget began with a $307,000 shortfall.

Among the biggest perennial factors in the shortfall are rising wage and health insurance costs for city employees and state-imposed limits on how much municipalities can increase property taxes.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the economy is contributing to next year’s financial situation for the city.

One example is a decrease on interest earnings from money that is temporarily invested before the public projects it is slated for have begun to be built.

Last fall the interest rate on those investments was around 2%, but it took a deep dive in May to 0.14% and has stayed around that level, Winzenz said.

The city is currently projecting it will get $618,000 less in those interest earnings in 2021.

Then there are other areas in the budget where COVID-19 could become a persistent drag, but it’s not yet known to what degree.

Hobbs Ice Center revenues will vary depending on when or if local hockey teams will play. Whether they’ll be able to have spectators in the stands and buying concessions is another question that will affect how much money the ice center will make.

City buses have been running at reduced capacity, which could impact the contract Eau Claire Transit has with UW-Eau Claire for shuttling students between campus and housing areas.

Demand for the city’s recreation programs and spaces in parking structures also are expected to be impacted into 2021 by the coronavirus pandemic as well, Winzenz said.

Other business

Also during Tuesday’s City Council meeting:

• A housing development planned by Wurzer Builders for vacant land along Old Town Hall Road gained rezoning approval in an 11-0 vote of the council.

• Changes to the approval process for permits allowing backyard chickens in Eau Claire were postponed for three months to seek opinions of neighborhood groups and chickenkeepers.

• The emergency declaration that began March 17 in the city was extended again for another month. The state of emergency had been slated to expire Tuesday, but is now extended to Sept. 22.