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Altoona brewer offered free beer for vaccinations
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ALTOONA — The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges for Eric Rykal, owner of Modicum Brewing Co.

Between a state-ordered shutdown, a voluntary shutdown and national aluminum can shortage, countless stressors have occurred over the past 18 months. Rykal has had to adapt his business on the fly while weighing the public health costs of operating a brewery during a pandemic.

A “pint for poke” event Friday intended to bring more customers to the brewery and promote vaccination against COVID-19. The first 100 people 21 and over who showed their COVID-19 vaccination cards received a coupon for a free beer from Modicum Brewing, 3732 Spooner Ave., Altoona.

“Being a small business owner in the service industry over the last year and a half has been stressful and difficult, to say the least,” Rykal said. “Whatever we can do to get over the hump, slow community spread and try to get things back to as much normalcy as possible is good.”

Several Wisconsin cities have hosted “pint for poke” events. Friday marked the second in Eau Claire and Altoona, with the first occurring in early summer at SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar. The event was sponsored by Opportunity Wisconsin, an advocacy organization focused on economic growth for the middle class.

Reba Krueger, Opportunity Wisconsin deputy program director and Eau Claire regional lead, approached Rykal with the idea, and he quickly agreed.

“We’ve been trying consciously to make an effort throughout the pandemic to try to keep our business going but also to do it as responsibly as possible, so this (event) is just another extension of that,” Rykal said.

Krueger said one of the goals was to create an opportunity to more easily discuss vaccination in a communal setting.

“I definitely hope it directly influences people to make the choice to get vaccinated, even by making it feel like more of a community,” Krueger said. “If we can just remind folks, ‘This isn’t about me versus you versus them,’ it’s really (that) we’re all in this together — that’s the most important thing. If we can make those conversations more accessible, more community-based, that’s so important and I think that’s really powerful.”

Another aim was to show appreciation for people who are vaccinated and supporting small businesses like Modicum. The brewery is a taproom-only business that “depends solely on people being able to come out and gather and sit down,” Rykal said. “The faster we can do that, the better for us and for everybody. Getting people vaccinated is the best tool we have to do that.”

Rykal’s business closed for several months at the start of the pandemic before reopening last summer. Shortly after, he voluntarily closed it because of the rise in COVID-19 cases before reopening again around November. The brewery has remained open since then.

It was a difficult decision to reopen last fall, but Rykal said the choice was “either (reopen) or close our doors for good.”

Rykal didn’t know how much demand would exist when the brewery reopened for the second time. He said a few people didn’t return because of Modicum’s “very stringent” mask enforcement, but most people were supportive and helped keep the business going.

“The vast majority of our customers were just happy to be here and help support us,” Rykal said. “After so many months of chaos, it was great to see familiar faces coming back, albeit under very strange circumstances.”

Those familiar faces have steadily come back over the past 10 months. Ray Jasicki and Adam Rumphol occasionally visit Modicum and were two of the first 100 customers to show proof of vaccination Friday.

Jasicki appreciated that the event allowed him to support a local brewery and public health measure.

“This is a good way to try to get some visibility to vaccinations and how important they are, and if you can get a good beer out of it, I’m all for that,” Jasicki said.

Rumphol agreed. He works as an emergency room nurse and wants everyone to be vaccinated, saying occasions like Friday’s event can help with that effort.

“The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner everything gets back to normal,” Rumphol said.

Big pumpkins

Huge pumpkins, some weighing more than 1,000 pounds, were on display Saturday during the 2021 River Prairie Ginormous Pumpkin Festival in Altoona.

Measuring and weighing the entries at Saturday’s Ginormous Pumpkin Festival took some extra effort. While long measuring tapes were enough to measure, getting them on the scales required a forklift.

Texas border crossing where migrants made camp to reopen

DEL RIO, Texas — The Texas border crossing where thousands of Haitian migrants converged in recent weeks will be partially reopened late Saturday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

Federal and local officials said no migrants remained at the makeshift encampment as of Friday, after some of the nearly 15,000 people were expelled from the country and many others were allowed to remain in the U.S., at least temporarily, as they try to seek asylum.

In a statement, officials said trade and travel operations would resume at the Del Rio Port of Entry for passenger traffic at 4 p.m. Saturday. It will be reopened for cargo traffic on Monday morning. CBP temporarily closed the border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, on Sept. 17 after the migrants suddenly crossed into Del Rio and made camp around the U.S. side of the border bridge.

CBP agents on Saturday searched the brush along the Rio Grande to ensure that no one was hiding near the site. Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, said officials also wanted to be sure no other large groups of migrants were making their way to the Del Rio area to try to set up a similar camp.

The Department of Homeland Security planned to continue flights to Haiti throughout the weekend, ignoring criticism from Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups who say Haitian migrants are being sent back to a troubled country that some left more than a decade ago.

The number of people at the Del Rio encampment peaked last Saturday as migrants driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and misinformation on social media converged at the border crossing.

The U.S. and Mexico worked swiftly, appearing eager to end the humanitarian situation that prompted the resignation of the U.S. special envoy to Haiti and widespread outrage after images emerged of border agents maneuvering their horses to forcibly block and move migrants.

Many migrants face expulsion because they are not covered by protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the U.S., citing security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. A devastating 2010 earthquake forced many from their homeland.

The U.S. government expelled 2,324 Haitians on 21 flights to Haiti from Sunday through Friday, according to the Department of Homeland Security. On Friday, the government operated four flights from Del Rio with 375 Haitian migrants; two flights to Port-au-Prince and two to Cap-Haitien. The department said the flights will continue “on a regular basis” as people are expelled under pandemic powers that deny migrants the chance to seek asylum.

The Trump administration enacted the policy, called Title 42, in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration has used it to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants.

A federal judge late last week ruled that the rule was improper and gave the government two weeks to halt it, but the Biden administration appealed.

Officials said the U.S. State Department is in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who previously resided in those countries to return, but it’s complicated because some of them no longer have legal status there.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. has allowed about 12,400 migrants to enter the country, at least temporarily, while they make claims before an immigration judge to stay in the country under the asylum laws or for some other legal reason. They could ultimately be denied and would be subject to removal.

Mayorkas said about 5,000 are in DHS custody and being processed to determine whether they will be expelled or allowed to press their claim for legal residency. Some returned to Mexico.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation said seven flights were scheduled to Haiti on Saturday and six on Sunday, though that was subject to change. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.

No migrants were left Saturday morning in the camp on the Mexico side of the border. Local authorities had moved the last migrants to a walled, roof-less facility in downtown Ciudad Acuña where the Mexican immigration agency put some tents.

That shelter had 240 people as of Saturday morning, according to Felipe Basulto, the secretary of the municipality. The Mexican government has been moving migrants by land and air to the south of the country and was planning to begin flying some to Haiti in the coming days.

The Mexico office of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration released a statement late Friday saying it is looking for countries where some Haitians have residency or where their children have citizenship as an alternative to allowing them to be deported to Haiti.

Luxon, a 31-year-old Haitian migrant who withheld his last name out of fear, said he was leaving with his wife and son for Mexicali, about 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) west along Mexico’s border with California.

“The option was to go to a place where there aren’t a lot of people and there request documents to be legal in Mexico,” he said.

US has enough COVID-19 vaccines for boosters, kids' shots

MADISON, Wis. — With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they’re confident there will be enough for both qualified older Americans seeking booster shots and the young children for whom initial vaccines are expected to be approved in the not-too-distant future.

The spike in demand — expected following last week’s federal recommendation on booster shots — would be the first significant jump in months. More than 70 million Americans remain unvaccinated despite the enticement of lottery prizes, free food or gifts and pleas from exhausted health care workers as the average number of deaths per day climbed to more than 1,900 in recent weeks.

Federal and state health authorities said current supply and steady production of more doses can easily accommodate those seeking boosters or initial vaccination, avoiding a repeat of the frustratingly slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country early this year.

“I hope that we have the level of interest in the booster ... that we need more vaccines,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. “That’s simply not where we are today. We have plenty of vaccines.”

Robust supply in the U.S enabled President Joe Biden this week to promise an additional 500 million of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world, doubling the United States’ global contribution. Aid groups and health organizations have pushed the U.S. and other countries to improve vaccine access in countries where even the most vulnerable people haven’t had a shot.

Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste. Several states with low vaccination rates, including Idaho and Kansas, have reported throwing away thousands of expired doses or are struggling to use vaccines nearing expiration this fall.

While most vaccines can stay on the shelf unopened for months, once a vial is opened the clock starts ticking. Vaccines are only usable for six to 12 hours, depending on the manufacturer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Moderna vaccines come in vials containing 11 to 15 doses. Pfizer vials contain up to six doses and Johnson & Johnson vials five doses.

“We are going to see more doses that go unused over time,” said Wisconsin’s health secretary, Karen Timberlake. “They come in multidose files. They don’t come in nice, tidy individual single-serving packages.”

State health officials said they have tried to request only what health care providers and pharmacies expect to need from the federal supply. Those numbers have dwindled since the vaccines became widely available in early spring.

But U.S. officials — holding out hope that some of the unvaccinated will change their minds — are trying to keep enough vaccines in stock so all Americans can get them.

That balancing act is tricky and can lead to consternation around the globe as the U.S. sits on unused vaccines while many countries in places such as Africa can’t get enough vaccines.

“Somebody sitting in a country with few resources to access vaccines, seeing people in the U.S. able to walk into a pharmacy and get that vaccine and choosing not to, I’m sure that’s causing heartache,” said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents the public health agencies of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, said officials anticipate that on-hand doses of COVID-19 vaccines and manufacturers’ ability to supply more will meet needs across the country.

“I think states have tried to plan as if everybody’s going to be offered a booster,” he said, suggesting they will be overprepared for the more narrow recommendations issued by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California, for example, estimated earlier this month that it would need to administer an extra 63 million doses by the end of 2022 — if initial shots for children under 12 were approved and boosters were open to everyone.

U.S. health officials late Thursday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older — along with tens of millions of younger people who are at higher risk from the coronavirus because of health conditions or their jobs.

California, with nearly 40 million residents, has the lowest transmission rate of any state and nearly 70% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. That leaves nearly 12 million people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, said the state will rely largely on pharmacies and primary care providers to give boosters to seniors while some large counties and health care groups will use mass vaccination sites.

In Pennsylvania, more than 67% of residents older than 18 are fully vaccinated. Alison Beam, acting secretary of health, said health authorities now have “two missions”: Continuing to persuade people to get vaccinated and serving those eager to receive a booster or initial shots.

“Pennsylvania is going to be prepared,” Beam said. “And we’re going to have the right level of vaccine and vaccinators to be able to meet that demand.”


Foody reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; and Patty Nieberg in Denver contributed.


Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.