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Local COVID-19 cases significantly up in July

Positive COVID-19 cases in Eau Claire County increased this month but have leveled in recent weeks.

According to Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, the county has averaged 54 weekly cases so far in July, significantly higher than 26 cases per week in June.

Eau Claire County has had 96 positive tests in the past two weeks, a 21% decrease from the two weeks prior. Thirty-six percent of the cases have come from community spread in the past two weeks, meaning the person does not know where an infection occurred. Of those 96 cases, there have been 285 named close contacts in the past two weeks, an average of 3.9 per case. Of those 285 contacts, 89% were reached within 24 hours. That number would ideally be 100%, Giese said during a health briefing Wednesday afternoon.

Contact tracing is crucial so that people with the potential of spreading the disease quarantine themselves and limit their interactions.

“The more we can identify close contacts, the more those close contacts stay at home during that 14-day period where they were potentially exposed,” Giese said.

Eau Claire County has 448 total positive cases, an increase of seven since Tuesday. Of those cases, 407 have recovered, meaning there are 41 active cases. The county has had 13,222 negative tests. There have been 23 hospitalizations due to complications from coronavirus. The county has five active public health investigations, including two in long-term care facilities, one at a group home and one at a health care facility.

Giese is encouraged by many businesses requiring and individuals wearing face masks, a practice proven to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a small thing to do to make a difference in the community,” Giese said.

Giese also said local health department directors are “pushing the state very hard” to consider a mask mandate for all Wisconsin residents.

“The best thing we could have happen is a state mandate for masks, if that’s seen as the best strategy, which is clearly the evidence that’s coming back nationally as well as internationally,” Giese said.

Chippewa County has 204 confirmed cases, 41 of which are active. That is four additional cases from Tuesday. The county has had zero hospitalizations and 7,500 negative test results.

Wisconsin has 51,048 positive cases, an increase of 870 from Tuesday. The state has 4,539 hospitalizations, an increase of 46 since Tuesday; that means 9% of total people who tested positive have been hospitalized. Five additional people have died since Tuesday, bringing the total number to 911 deaths.

The next COVID-19 briefing will occur Monday. The Health Department’s COVID-19 call center can be reached at 715-831-7425.

From left, Darlene Spehle shops with her granddaughter Danielle Jenkins and daughter Laurie Starks on Wednesday at the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market in Phoenix Park. All are from Eau Claire. View more photos at

AP centerpiece
Agents to pull back in Portland, stay on standby

PORTLAND, Ore. — Some federal officers guarding a U.S. courthouse that’s been targeted during violent protests in Portland will leave in the next 24 hours, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday. But the Trump administration’s insistence that some agents would remain in the building and the entire contingent would stay in the city in case they’re needed sparked confusion and concern among demonstrators.

While each side declared victory in the political fight over the federal deployment, it was not clear if the agreement would reduce tensions on the streets of the liberal city, where nightly protests have persisted for more than two months.

Many demonstrators are peaceful, but smaller numbers have thrown fireworks, flares and rocks at federal agents, used lasers to blind them and sprayed graffiti across the downtown Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. Agents have responded with tear gas, pepper balls, stun grenades and nearly 100 arrests.

The deal also seemed likely to further muddle the situation by adding yet another law enforcement agency to the mix — Oregon State Police.

President Donald Trump earlier this month sent agents to the city from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service as protests against racial injustice increasingly targeted federal property. The deployment appeared to have the opposite effect, reinvigorating demonstrations with a new focus: getting rid of the federal presence.

The Democratic governor said CBP and ICE agents will begin leaving the downtown area Thursday, but Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf wouldn’t specify where the agents would go. He insisted that a federal presence would remain until the Trump administration was assured the agreement was working and state police were sufficiently protecting federal property.

The plan calls for agents with the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Protective Service to stay inside a fence set up around the courthouse, along with some state police, to keep out protesters. State police will be outside the fence.

“I want to be clear about this, the entire DHS law enforcement presence in Portland will remain in Portland, whether they’re staying inside the courthouse, next door or a different location, obviously I’m not going to get into that,” Wolf said on a call with reporters. “If ... we have indicators and warnings that (the state police) deployment is not working, that entire DHS law enforcement presence is available.”

He said federal agents have made 94 arrests.

Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton said his agency would deploy a special operations team and some uniformed troopers to the courthouse for a two-week rotation. The agency hopes its efforts will allow the protective fence to be removed and “restore a semblance of normalcy, while meeting community expectations and our obligations to protect the federal property,” Hampton said.

The agreement also calls for the U.S. government to clean the graffiti off the courthouse. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, has previously said the federal government refused to clean the building, contributing to the mistaken impression that the entire city was under siege.

The conflicts between protesters and the federal agents have been limited to roughly two square blocks around the courthouse and have not affected the rest of the city.

Trump declared victory, tweeting that federal agents prevented Portland from being “burned and beaten to the ground” and later repeating his refrain at a speech in Texas that protesters are agitators and anarchists.

Wheeler also claimed a win in a lengthy Twitter post.

“The federal occupation of our community has brought a new kind of fear to our streets. Federal agents nearly killed a demonstrator, and their presence has led to increased violence and vandalism in our downtown core,” he said.

A protester was critically injured July 11 and required facial reconstructive surgery after a federal agent fired a non-lethal round that struck him in the head.

Wednesday’s announcement was an abrupt about-face from just two days earlier, when the U.S. government said it might send more federal agents to Portland.

In fact, the Marshals Service were taking steps to identify up to 100 additional personnel who could go in case they were needed to relieve or supplement those working in Oregon, spokesman Drew Wade said.

Like protests that swept the nation following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, the Portland demonstrations called for an end to racial injustice, but they had increasingly focused on federal property even before the U.S. agents arrived.

Their deployment against the wishes of state and city officials touched off a debate about the role of the federal government and ended up drawing more residents into the streets after protests had begun to devolve into smaller, though still violent, gatherings.

Oregon’s governor cautioned Wednesday that the lower visibility of the federal agents — and their ultimate departure — won’t immediately resolve the conflict.

“I have grown increasingly concerned at the nightly confrontation between local community members and federal officers,” Brown said. “We need to recognize that the protests in Portland are not solely about the federal presence.”

Many protesters want to see reduced funding for Portland police and are angry that officers used tear gas on protesters multiple times before federal agents arrived. Brown said the departure of the agents was a chance to address that anger and start improving community policing.

Prosecutors: Agents will probe crimes, not bust protests

MADISON — Federal prosecutors worked Wednesday to dispel concerns that federal agents headed to a number of U.S. cities will be used to break up protests, insisting that the agents will work side-by-side with local and state investigators to solve violent crimes.

President Donald Trump recently sent federal agents to Portland, Oregon, to protect federal property during the almost daily protests in the city since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The move has drawn heavy criticism because the agents have been accused of overstepping that mandate, arresting people without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force.

Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, said Wednesday that the agents would begin a “phased withdrawal” from Portland starting Thursday.

Trump announced last week that he was sending agents to more U.S. cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, to combat a rise in violent crime as part of an operation that started last year. The operation was dubbed Operation Relentless Pursuit but was renamed Operation Legend after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro was shot and killed in Kansas City, Missouri, last month.

That announcement that federal agents would be deployed through Operation Legend raised fears among Democrats that those agents’ real mission would be to bust up protests and make liberal-leaning cities look bad as Trump seeks to win re-election.

“This president is abusing his power and public resources to fuel a twisted campaign strategy,” Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Matthew Krueger, the U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, told reporters during a news conference earlier Wednesday that the media was confusing agents’ missions. Agents being sent to cities other than Portland were part of a U.S. Department of Justice effort to bolster manpower in high-crime cities dubbed Operation Legend, he said. That initiative began in December. It was supposed to have been expanded this spring but the coronavirus pandemic delayed that move until this month, he said.

Krueger said he spent the last week updating local and state authorities in Wisconsin on the agents’ mission and stressed that the agents wouldn’t be used to go after protesters and instead would work with local authorities, just as federal agents have long done.

“If you use the words Portland, Oregon, you only sow confusion,” he said. “You will not see federal agents amassing on the streets of Milwaukee. These aren’t beat cops. They’re trained investigators.”

He said a total of 25 to 30 agents from the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alochol, Tobacco and Firearms would be deployed in Milwaukee. Ten who arrived this month are in the city temporarily. The others will be permanently assigned to the city.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said that after speaking with Kreiger, she is supportive of the operation in Milwaukee. She said she was pleased that he was clarifying the mission and faulted Trump’s administration for not being clear from the outset.

“I’m glad there’s been some clarification and we want to be kept apprised, very frequently, about what this operation is about,” Baldwin said in a Milwaukee Press Club online event.

In Detroit, federal authorities said dozens of agents and deputy marshals were being assigned to the city to combat gun violence and arrest fugitives, among other tasks. They will collaborate with the local police.

Matthew Schneider, the U.S. attorney for eastern Michigan, said “federal troops” would not be patrolling the streets and he dismissed as “irresponsible rhetoric” any suggestion that the government wants to disrupt lawful protests against racism and the excessive use of force by police.

Earlier this week, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said more than 500 guns were seized during a recent four-week period. He welcomed any additional federal help.

During a news conference Wednesday, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio said Operation Legend in Cleveland and surrounding communities will involve 25 agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisting local and state law enforcement agencies.

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said agents will be permanently assigned to existing violent crime task forces to address gang violence, narcotics-related shootings and illegal firearms.

“It is not an introduction of federal riot police; it is not an introduction of federal uniformed personnel; it is not an introduction of federal agents to protect federal property,” Herdman said.

Democratic mayors said on their conference call that they were afraid Operation Legend could quickly shift toward breaking up protests. Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said his city was set to receive agents but had no formal agreement with the Justice Department on their mission.

“These missions change at the whim of the White House,” Keller said. “There’s no reason to trust words at a press conference any more with this administration.”