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Law enforcement grapples with COVID deaths in the ranks

JANESVILLE — The last two years have been deadly for local law enforcement officers who have contracted COVID-19. After the death of a Beloit police officer from complications brought on by the virus, stateline area authorities are reflecting on the hundreds of virus-related officer deaths impacting communities across the country.

Beloit Police officer Daniel Daly, 48, died Nov. 15 from COVID-19 complications. On the same day, 20-year veteran Wisconsin State Patrol Master Trooper Dan Stainbrook, 42, also died from COVID-19-related illness.

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, an organization that tracks officer deaths nationwide. In the last years, nearly two-thirds of all law enforcement deaths in the United States have been due to COVID-19.

In 2020, a total of 384 law enforcement deaths were reported to the organization. Of those deaths, COVID-19 killed 253, or 65.8%. As of Dec. 9, 447 total law enforcement deaths have been reported nationwide. Officer Down Memorial data shows 295 of of this, 65.9%, could be blamed on the virus.

Janesville Police Chief David Moore said the hundreds of law enforcement deaths were “clearly a tragic matter that will continue to grow.”

Another organization tracking COVID-19 deaths nationwide, the Fraternal Order of Police, reports an even higher number of virus-related deaths among law enforcement since the pandemic began in March 2020. The organization reports that as of Dec. 12, 816 officers have died from COVID-19.

Virus-related officer deaths are tracked using media reports and submissions from police departments nationwide as no data is tracked centrally by one organization, resulting in differing figures.

“This is the best data we have,” said Ryan Windorff, president of the Wisconsin State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. “We knew from the beginning that law enforcement would be heavily impacted by this where other industries have adapted to remote work. It’s not an option for public safety officers. I think the trends show it’s a threat we take seriously and has an impact on how we do our job.”

The threat to local officers

Rock County, Wisconsin, and Winnebago County, Illinois, law enforcement officials who spoke to Adams Publishing Group all said the invisible threat posed by COVID-19 has changed the way officers go about their jobs.

“It goes without saying that the world is facing the toughest battle many of us have witnessed in our lifetimes,” Beloit Police Chief Andre Sayles said.

“Behind the numbers are families and children that lose their loved ones while police departments and communities struggle with the deaths,” Moore said. “Officers have been trained for years to handle a variety of threats that can result in death or great bodily harm from armed encounters to high speed pursuits or assaults. COVID-19 offers a new and different threat to our officers’ lives.”

Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson added, “We don’t always have the luxury of not going to an important call based on the health status of the reporting person or suspect. The virus just became one more threat to the officers who were out in the community doing their jobs.”

South Beloit Police Chief Adam Truman said the high number of officer virus-related deaths showed COVID-19 can continue “to strike anyone, at any age, in any profession.”

Officers’ vaccination rates unclear

There is little data regarding law enforcement COVID-19 vaccination rates nationwide, as police unions across the country fight vaccination mandates.

Windorff said the Fraternal Order of Police opposed a vaccine mandate while advocating for personal freedom of law enforcement personnel in Wisconsin to choose whether to be vaccinated.

“Our position is that any individual who is healthy and doesn’t have an exemption from vaccination should seriously consider receiving it, and we encourage that,” Windorff said. “It’s not unique to law enforcement. There’s a divide among vaccine acceptance nationwide.”

Local COVID-19 vaccine data for law enforcement is also scarce. Jessica Turner, a spokesperson for the Rock County Public Health Department, said the public health agency did not have public safety vaccination rates among Rock County agencies “at that level” when asked for individual department figures.

The only local glimpse into public safety COVID-19 vaccination rates came early in the pandemic when the vaccines was first offered to frontline workers.

As of Jan. 26, the Beloit Police Department reported 53% of department employees were vaccinated while 42.1% of Beloit Fire Department employees were vaccinated. Since initial reporting by Adams Publishing Group, the City of Beloit has stopped tracking vaccination data of employees in city departments including police and fire.

Sayles said getting vaccinated was “an individual right.”

“I firmly still believe in that, but I would certainly encourage people to” get vaccinated, Sayles said.

Truman emphasized personal freedom when discussing vaccinations. “I respect those that do and those that don’t get vaccinated,” he said.

Knudson said the sheriff’s office recommended deputies and jail staff get vaccinated “for their own protection and to ensure that they don’t unknowingly carry the virus and expose others.”

Moore said the science behind vaccinations and the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines is “clear.”

“With millions of Americans that are vaccinated, the science continues to support the vaccine from both a safety perspective and effectiveness standpoint,” Moore said. “Officers are placed in a difficult position as they are often in a dynamic fight or struggle and continuous wearing of the mask is difficult if not impossible. COVID-19 exposures are inevitable, which exemplifies the importance of being vaccinated.”

Town of Beloit Police Chief Ron Northrop declined to comment when contacted by a reporter.

Benefits for survivors available

Early in the pandemic, former Republican President Donald Trump signed the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020 that extended death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to public safety officers who die or become injured as a result of the coronavirus. The legislation marks COVID deaths as a line-of-duty fatality that triggers benefits to deceased officers’ families. The bill was extended by Democratic President Joe Biden on Nov. 18.

Going forward, Windorff said police departments must focus on the wellness and mental health of officers as virus looks likely to threaten their lives for years to come.

“Losing someone in the department is a horrible situation and it’s akin to losing a family member,” Windorff added. “We’re dealing with the pandemic and we’ve dealt with anti-law enforcement sentiment, along with a record number of officers leaving the profession. All of those things create an environment where the mental health of officers is a top priority.”

Celebrating a century

From left, Fay Pettit, Hilde Bacharach, Dorothy Skoug, Letitia Notbohm and Lois Kramschuster celebrated during the 100 Year Queens Tea Party at The Classic at Hillcrest Greens in Altoona on Tuesday afternoon. All are 100-years-old except Pettit who is 101. Bacharach turned 100 on Tuesday.

US population growth at lowest rate in pandemic's 1st year

U.S. population growth dipped to its lowest rate since the nation’s founding during the first year of the pandemic as the coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies and killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents, according to figures released Tuesday.

The United States grew by only 0.1%, with an additional 392,665 added to the U.S. population from July 2020 to July 2021, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. has been experiencing slow population growth for years but the pandemic exacerbated that trend. This past year was the first time since 1937 that the nation’s population grew by less than 1 million people.

“I was expecting low growth but nothing this low,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan policy program, Brookings Metro. “It tells us that this pandemic has had a huge impact on us in all kinds of ways, and now demography.”

Once there’s a handle on the pandemic, the U.S. may eventually see a decrease in deaths, but population growth likely won’t bounce back to what it has been in years past because of fewer births. That will increase the need for immigration by younger workers whose taxes can support programs such as Social Security, Frey said.

“We have an aging population and that means fewer women in child-bearing ages,” Frey said. “We see younger people putting off having children and they’re going to have fewer children.”

The population estimates are derived from calculating the number of births, deaths and migration in the U.S. For the first time, international migration surpassed natural increases that come from births outnumbering deaths. There was a net increase of nearly 245,000 residents from international migration but only about 148,000 from new births outnumbering deaths.

University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson described the decline in natural population increase as “stunning,” saying it was the smallest spread of births over deaths in more than 80 years.

“Of course most of this is COVID, but not all of it,” Johnson said. “U.S. natural increase was already at a low ebb prior to COVID with the fertility rate hitting a new record low each year and deaths steadily rising due to the population aging.”

Between 2020 and 2021, 33 states saw population increases, primarily through domestic migration, while 17 states and the District of Columbia lost population.

States in the Mountain West saw the biggest year-over-year growth, with Idaho growing by almost 3%, and Utah and Montana each seeing population increases of 1.7%. The District of Columbia lost 2.9% of its population, while New York and Illinois lost 1.6% and 0.9% of their populations, respectively.

While the pandemic gave some the option of working remotely, data released last month by the Census Bureau shows there was no great migration in the U.S. because of it.

Some did take advantage of the opportunity, however. Tired of the heat, hurricane threats and traffic in Houston, tech worker Heidi Krueger moved to a small town south of Knoxville, Tennessee, in September. She can see the Great Smoky Mountains from her front porch.

“Because I was working from home during the pandemic, it made it feasible to move and still keep my same job,” Krueger said. “As long as I have internet, I can still connect to our clients.”

Region sees a record high 14 virus-related fatalities
  • Updated

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Western Wisconsin had a record-high number of COVID-19 related deaths reported on Tuesday, with 14 fatalities across a 12-county area.

The newly reported deaths include five from Barron County, three in Eau Claire County, two from Rusk and Clark counties, and one each from Chippewa and Dunn counties.

In December alone, the dozen counties across western Wisconsin have now recorded 79 deaths. That makes this month the second-highest fatality total this year, behind 85 deaths recorded in January, with 10 days remaining in December.

In comparison, the 12-county area recorded just 11 virus-related deaths the entire month of July.

Statewide, 83 more Wisconsinites have died from virus-related symptoms, bringing the state’s total to 9,765. At this pace, the state is likely to reach 10,000 deaths before the end of the year.

Wisconsin is now averaging 167.4 deaths per 100,000 residents. Four counties in the region are now averaging more than 200 deaths per 100,000 residents, and each of those four reported deaths Tuesday: Barron (246.2 per 100,000), Chippewa (208.5), Clark (267.9) and Rusk (292.4). Meanwhile, Eau Claire County still remains below the state’s overall death rate, at 140.6 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Among the 12 counties in western Wisconsin, only Trempealeau County (66.6%) is ahead of the state’s vaccination rate of 61.5% of residents with at least one shot. The state’s rate ticked up 0.1% Tuesday from Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the national average is now 72.9% of all residents with at least one shot, including 85.1% of adults, and 95% of all seniors ages 65 and older.

The Department of Health Services also said 4,064 more virus cases were reported Tuesday.