EAU CLAIRE — Lawrence Radisewitz survived being part of the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge — two of the bloodiest and most famous conflicts of World War II — but he finally met his match in COVID-19.
Radisewitz, 97, died Oct. 17 from complications of COVID-19 at Care Partners Assisted Living in Eau Claire, according to family members.
“He’s had heart problems for a long time, but in the end what really did him in was COVID-19,” Dave Radisewitz of Madison said of his father, a humble member of what’s often called the Greatest Generation who rarely talked about his World War II service.
Lawrence, a U.S. Army radio operator, earned a bronze star for his heroics at the Battle of the Bulge in which he saved many American lives by continuing to radio information about newly discovered German outposts despite being targeted by enemy fire, said his daughter Diane Radisewitz-Rommes of Baxter, Minnesota.
After the war, Lawrence, an Altoona native, returned to the Chippewa Valley, where he married his sweetheart, Catherine Turba, and worked as a machinist for decades at the Uniroyal tire plant in Eau Claire.
“He was not one to brag about himself or to even appreciate the skills that he had, but he was someone who could fix anything or build anything,” Diane said.
Ultimately, however, doctors couldn’t fix Lawrence once he contracted the coronavirus despite taking extraordinary measures, including trying remdesivir, a drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating COVID-19.
“It was just too much for him to fight,” Diane said.
The family remains upset with the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled.
“It’s frustrating, the lack of leadership on this issue” Dave said. “A lot more could have been done to save a lot more people.”
Listening to the political back-and-forth about COVID-19 at the same time his family was coping with his father’s case was painful, Dave said.
“That mask wearing has become some sort of political issue instead of a public health issue makes me want to scream,” he said. “It should be a matter of common sense. Wear a mask. You’re not being a coward by trying to prevent disease spread. You’re more of a hero.”
Diane expressed similar sentiments, stating that her father’s death carries an extra layer of grief because it feels almost like he was the victim of a crime.
“So many lives were needlessly shortened. It didn’t have to be this way,” added Diane, who called on Americans to work together and follow the science to get through the pandemic.
Facility cases rising
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted-living communities across the country that provide care to about 5 million people a year, released a report Monday showing COVID-19 cases are increasing in U.S. long-term care facilities because of community spread among the general population.
“As we feared, the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S., combined with the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus, has unfortunately led to an increase in new COVID cases in nursing homes,” AHCA/NCAL President Mark Parkinson said in a news release. “It is incredibly frustrating as we had made tremendous progress to reduce COVID rates in nursing homes after the spike this summer in Sun Belt states. If everybody would wear a mask and social distance to reduce the level of COVID in the community, we know we would dramatically reduce these rates in long-term care facilities.”
During the week of Oct. 18, 43% of new cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states with major spikes in community spread.
Overall, residents of long-term care facilities account for 8% of the nation’s cases but 40% of COVID-19 deaths, the report indicates.
While mortality rates have decreased compared with the spring due to a better understanding of the virus, better treatments and government resources to help reduce spread, industry leaders remain deeply concerned that the rising number of new COVID-19 cases in facilities will lead to an increase in deaths, the groups said in the release.
In Wisconsin, the state Department of Health Services has launched about 1,200 public health investigations this year involving COVID-19 cases reported at long-term care facilities. As of last week, DHS reported 598 of those investigations remain active, including 22 at facilities in Eau Claire, Dunn and Chippewa counties.
Jason Lindemann, owner of Care Partners and its more than 40 facilities across the state, said cases are climbing at its properties in northern Wisconsin as the virus spikes in those more rural areas.
“As a company, we’re addressing it on an individual site basis,” he said.
Care Partners continues to follow virus protocols recommended by public health agencies, including requiring masks, limiting visitation, banning communal dining, isolating people with exposures and taking expanded sanitization measures, Lindemann said.
Meanwhile, Radisewitz family members have had to comfort each other and grieve in isolation from their loved one. Visitation restrictions meant they couldn’t visit Lawrence at the assisted-living facility after he reported difficulty breathing and not being able to feel his legs before testing positive for COVID-19. They still couldn’t see him when he was hospitalized, or even after he was put on hospice at Care Partners before his death.
“They had to be in quarantine because of the at-risk population that lives there and we couldn’t see him for months,” Diane said. “I am grateful that my husband and I did a through-the-window visit a couple weeks before he was diagnosed.”
The family is thankful that Catherine continues to do OK since testing positive for the virus shortly before her husband’s death.
Even Lawrence’s funeral will be livestreamed because the family doesn’t want to put anyone else at risk of contracting the virus, especially as cases surge in the Chippewa Valley and across the state.
“With no one around, they will bury his ashes,” Dave said. “We made the conscious decision because of COVID that we don’t want anyone getting together. Maybe in the future we can do something graveside for the family.”
Beyond the political aspects of the health crisis that has resulted in more than 230,000 deaths in the U.S. and over 2,000 in Wisconsin, Diane said her father’s death brings sadness.
“We knew he didn’t have forever left and we understood any time we had with him was precious, but this virus that triggered his death took away my last chance to spend any time with him and made my life a much darker and emptier place,” Diane said. “And I know we’re not alone.”
FENTON, Michigan (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals.
Nurses are being trained to provide care in fields where they have limited experience. Hospitals are scaling back services to ensure enough staff to handle critically ill patients. And health systems are turning to short-term travel nurses to help fill the gaps.
Adding to the strain, experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, where several left just in the past month to work in hospice or home care or at outpatient clinics.
“And replacing them is not easy,” Fitzpatrick said.
As a result, he said, the ER is operating at about five nurses short of its optimal level at any given time, and each one typically cares for four patients as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge anew. Hospital officials did not respond to requests for comment.
But the departures are not surprising, according to experts, considering not only the mental toll but the fact that many nurses trained in acute care are over 50 and at increased risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, while younger nurses often have children or other family to worry about.
“Who can actually work and who feels safe working are limited by family obligations to protect their own health,” said Karen Donelan, professor of U.S. health policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “All of those things have been factors.”
Donelan said there is little data so far on how the pandemic, which has killed more than 231,000 people in the country, is affecting nursing overall. But some hospitals had a shortage even before the virus took hold, despite a national rise in the number of nurses over the past decade.
With total confirmed coronavirus cases surpassing 9 million in the U.S. and new daily infections rising in 47 states, the need is only increasing.
Wausau-based Aspirus Health Care is offering $15,000 signing bonuses for nurses with at least a year of experience and hiring contract nurses through private staffing companies to handle a surge in hospitalizations that prompted the system to almost quadruple the number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients.
Aspirus, which operates five hospitals in Wisconsin and four in small communities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, also is moving nurses around between departments and facilities as hot spots emerge, said Ruth Risley-Gray, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Aspirus.
Outside help still is needed, in part because some nurses have gotten sick from or were exposed to the coronavirus during the current wave, which “came with a vengeance” starting in August, Risley-Gray said. At one point in mid-October, 215 staffers were in isolation after showing symptoms or being exposed to someone who tested positive, and some are just starting to return to work.
Aspirus recently was able to hire 18 nurses from outside agencies, and may need more if the surge continues.
Because the pandemic is surging just about everywhere in the country, hospitals nationwide are competing for the same pool of nurses, offering pay ranging from $1,500 a week to more than $5,000, said April Hansen, executive vice president at San Diego-based Aya Healthcare, which recruits and deploys travel nurses.
Hansen said demand for their services has more than doubled since early in the pandemic when the greatest need was in hot spots like New York and New Jersey and then moved to southern states. In recent weeks the virus has been spiking across the country, with the new hot spots in places like the rural upper Midwest and southern-border communities such as El Paso, Texas.
Now placing nurses where they’re needed is “like a giant game of whack-a-mole,” said Hansen, whose company has about 20,000 openings for contract nurses.
In North Dakota, where infection rates are exploding, hospitals may cut back on elective surgeries and seek government aid to hire more nurses if things get worse, North Dakota Hospital Association president Tim Blasl said.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced he was sending 75 nurses and respiratory therapists to El Paso to help handle the city’s surge. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, meanwhile, issued emergency orders making it easier for nurses from elsewhere to practice in his state and for retired nurses to come back.
“This has been a challenge, and we’ve been pleading with the community members to protect themselves and others,” by wearing masks and social distancing, said Aspirus’ Risley-Gray, who said the positivity rate among community members tested by Aspirus rose from under 10% in September to 24% last week.
To combat the emotional toll and fatigue that comes with caring for COVID-19 patients, including just donning and removing protective equipment all day, Aspirus has been giving nurses microbreaks and quiet places to get away and collect themselves when they feel overwhelmed.
Travel nurses say the need at small hospitals tends to be greater than at larger facilities.
Robert Gardner, who’s currently assigned to a hospital in a small town about 20 miles west of Atlanta, said he did search and rescue in the Coast Guard during Hurricane Katrina and the pandemic is “a lot worse.”
He worked at a large New Jersey hospital when that state was swamped by the virus in the spring, and now worries that flu season could bring further chaos to hospitals. But he’s determined to stick it out, no matter what.
“It’s not even a question,” Gardner said. “Nursing is a calling.”
Election Day is finally upon us.
Or at least what we still call Election Day, since more than 93 million Americans have already cast ballots in an election that has been reshaped by the worst pandemic in more than a century, its economic fallout and a long-simmering reckoning with systemic racism.
Here are some key questions we are considering as the final votes are cast and counted:
What do Americans want from a president?
Elections are always about where Americans want to steer the country. That’s especially true this year as the U.S. confronts multiple crises and is choosing between two candidates with very different visions for the future.
President Donald Trump has downplayed the coronavirus outbreak even as cases surge across the U.S. He has panned governors — virtually all Democrats — who have imposed restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the disease. And he has bucked public health guidelines by holding his signature campaign rallies featuring crowds of supporters — often unmasked — packed shoulder to shoulder.
His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has said he’d heed the advice of scientists. He’s pledged to work with state and local officials across the country to push mask mandates and has called on Congress to pass a sweeping response package.
Trump casts protests of systemic racism as radical and has emphasized a “law and order” message to appeal to his largely white base. Biden acknowledges systemic racism, picked the first Black woman to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket and has positioned himself as a unifying figure.
The candidates also hold distinctly different views on everything from climate change and the environment to taxes and the scope of federal regulation.
Whose turnout approach wins?
The two parties took wildly different approaches to contacting voters amid the pandemic.
Democrats stopped knocking on doors in the spring, going all-digital and phone. They resumed limited in-person contacts in September. Republicans continued traditional field work the entire campaign.
The GOP can point to success in increasing their voter registration in battleground states. Democrats can point to their earlyvoting success, including from notable slices of new voters. But only the final tally will vindicate one strategy or the other.
Will voting be peaceful?
Each major party can install official poll watchers at precincts. It’s the first time in decades Republicans could use the practice after the expiration of a court order limiting their activities. So it’s an open question how aggressive those official poll watchers will be in monitoring voters Tuesday or even challenging eligibility.
The bigger issue is likely to be unofficial “poll watchers” — especially self-declared militias. Voter intimidation is illegal, but Trump, in the Sept. 29 presidential debate, notably refused to state plainly that he’d accept election results and instead said he is “urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.”
In Michigan, where federal authorities recently arrested members of anti-government paramilitary groups in an alleged plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic secretary of state tried to impose a ban on carrying firearms openly at a polling place. A Michigan judge struck down the order.
Whither the exurbs and smaller cities?
Trump’s reelection depends on driving up his margins in rural areas and smaller towns and cities — those expansive swaths of red on the county-by-county results map from 2016.
But acres don’t vote, people do, and Biden is casting a wide demographic and geographic net. His ideal coalition is anchored in metro areas, but he hopes to improve Democratic turnout among nonwhite voters and college-educated voters across the map.
There are places where the competing strategies overlap: exurban counties — those communities on the edges of the large metropolitan footprints — and counties anchored by smaller stand-alone cities.
Two potential indicators that could have close-to-complete unofficial returns sooner rather than later and portend broader results:
FORSYTH COUNTY, GEORGIA — Part of metro Atlanta’s growing, diversifying northern ring. Republican Mitt Romney won 80% of 81,900 votes in 2012, while Trump’s share dropped to 70% of nearly 99,000 votes in 2016. If that trend line continues, it would signal first that GOP-controlled Georgia is indeed a tossup. More broadly, it would suggest Trump’s suburban-exurban problems are real.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, OHIO — Dayton and its surroundings. They make up one of the 206 “pivot counties” that flipped from President Barack Obama to Trump. Obama won 51.4% of the vote in 2012 to 46.8% for Romney (Obama’s statewide win was 50.6-47.6). Trump nipped Hillary Clinton in 2016, but mostly because she lost 15,000 votes from Obama’s 2012 count (137,139), while Trump fell only about 950 votes short of Romney’s mark (124,841). A clear Biden rebound with a Trump drop-off is not the trend Republicans want to see in a midsize metro footprint.
A 1968 redux? How about 1980?
Trump spent considerable energy this year posturing as a “law and order” president, blasting nationwide protests of racial injustice and occasional violence as left-wing rioting that previewed “Joe Biden’s America.”
The president’s allies pointed to 1968, when widespread unrest amid the Vietnam War, general social upheaval and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy benefited Republican Richard Nixon as he built his “silent majority.” But Nixon wasn’t the incumbent in 1968. In fact, the political atmosphere was so bad for President Lyndon Johnson that the Democrat didn’t seek reelection.
Many Democrats and some Republicans are now pointing more at 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan trounced President Jimmy Carter and the GOP flipped a whopping 12 Democratic Senate seats. Trump’s standing in the polls over 2020 has tracked only slightly above where Carter spent much of the 1980 election year, as he battled inflation, high unemployment and the Iran hostage crisis. But what appeared a tight race on paper as late as October turned into a rout. Even Democratic heavyweights like Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh and South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, once a presidential nominee, fell.
It’s a more polarized era four decades later. But the lesson is that Trump would defy history to win reelection amid such a cascade of crises and voter dissatisfaction.
When will the race be called?
Absentee voting amid coronavirus has changed the vote-counting timeline, and there aren’t uniform practices for counting those ballots. That makes it difficult to predict when certain key battlegrounds, much less a national result, could be called.
For example, Pennsylvania and Michigan — battlegrounds Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 — aren’t expected to have complete-but-unofficial totals for days. Florida and North Carolina, meanwhile, began processing early ballots ahead of time, with officials there forecasting earlier unofficial returns. But those two states also could have razor-thin margins.
Early returns, meanwhile, could show divergent results. Biden’s expected to lead comfortably among early voters, for example. Trump is likely to counter with a lead among Election Day voters. Depending on which counties report which batch of votes first, perennially close states could tempt eager partisans to reach conclusions that aren’t necessarily accurate.