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Eau Claire County's health order renewed

EAU CLAIRE — As classes begin for K-12 and local college students this week, an Eau Claire County public health order requiring people to distance socially and limit the size of public gatherings will continue.

During a Wednesday afternoon virtual news conference, Eau Claire City-County Health Director Lieske Giese announced that the order intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus is renewed for another two weeks, this time set to expire on Thursday, Sept. 17.

“The order remains unchanged from the previous two-week period,” she said.

The order includes maintaining six feet of distance between people who don’t live in the same household and prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and in excess of 250 in outdoor settings.

While Eau Claire public schools cancelled their fall sports season, Giese acknowledged that other districts in the county plan to proceed with theirs, including three sports deemed “high-risk” during the pandemic — volleyball, soccer and football.

As schools faced a deadline to notify the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association on Tuesday about playing those sports this fall, Giese said the health department did contact area superintendents with a letter of advice.

The first recommendation was to “think twice” about playing high-risk sports, Giese said.

But beyond that though, the advice included to not allow spectators at sporting events, require those on the sidelines to wear face masks and maintain distance between each other, she said. Limiting the number of different teams at athletic events also was recommended to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to multiple schools.

With the dawn of new school year and students returning to classrooms for the first time since mid-March, Giese anticipates seeing statistics of COVID-19 testing and positive cases to increase.

“We are expecting that with more gatherings of people that the state numbers will be going up in the next few weeks,” she said.

Statewide, there have been 1.18 million COVID-19 tests administered since the pandemic began with 76,584 coming back positive. Of those infected with COVID-19, 5,878 were hospitalized at some point and 1,130 have died in Wisconsin.

The positivity rate — the percentage of those diagnosed with COVID-19 out of the total number of people tested — is 8.5% statewide.

A current, comparable positivity rate for Eau Claire County was unavailable Wednesday due to a technical issue discovered earlier this week. That problem resulted in a number of negative tests from last week not included in Eau Claire County and other counties’ tallies on the state website tracking coronavirus activity, Giese said. Attributed to a backlog in processing the negative test data, the problem was being addressed but not fixed in time for Wednesday afternoon’s news conference.

Prior to the data problem, Eau Claire County’s positivity rate had been around 6%, she added.

The running total of positive cases is current and stood at 838 in Eau Claire County since the pandemic began — an increase of 13 since Tuesday.

Of the total, 81 were in isolation Wednesday while 757 have recovered.

Six Eau Claire County residents have died due to COVID-19, and 39 have been hospitalized at some point because of the virus.

The county has a COVID-19 call center that can be reached at 715-831-7425.

coming Back to campus

UW-Eau Claire sophomore Carley Conway of Germantown relaxed in the shade on the university’s campus in between classes on the first day of school on Wednesday. It is the first day UW-Eau Claire students have returned to campus en masse since the university canceled in-person spring classes in mid-March. View more photos at

Biden: Trump ignores pandemic, stokes unrest, solves neither

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden is calling the struggle to reopen U.S. schools amid the coronavirus a “national emergency” and accusing President Donald Trump of turning his back to stoke passions instead about unrest in America’s cities.

The Democratic presidential nominee’s broadsides came a day ahead of his own trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Biden said he wants to help “heal” a city reeling from another police shooting of a Black man. The wounding of Jacob Blake and subsequent demonstrations have made the political battleground state a focal point for debate over police and protest violence, as well as the actions of vigilante militias.

Biden assailed Trump for his vilifying of protesters as well as his handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and crippled the national economy, leaving millions out of work, schools straining to deal with students in classrooms or at home and parents struggling to keep up. An American president, Trump’s challenger declared, should be able to lead through multiple crises at the same time.

“Where is the president? Why isn’t he working on this?,” Biden asked. “We need emergency support funding for our schools — and we need it now. Mr. President, that is your job. That’s what you should be focused on — getting our kids back to school. Not whipping up fear and division — not inciting violence in our streets.”

Trump answered almost immediately with his own event in North Carolina, where he continued casting the protests generally as “violent mobs here at home” that must be met with a strong show of force. “These people know one thing: strength,” he said. If local leaders would ask for federal muscle, Trump said, “We’ll have it done in one hour.”

The opposing events reflected the clear fault lines of the general election campaign. Each man casts the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security, but Trump uses “law and order” as his rallying cry while Biden pushes a broader referendum on Trump’s competence, temperament and values.

Biden said Wednesday that he’d use existing federal disaster law to direct funding to schools to help them reopen safely, and he urged Trump to “get off Twitter” and “negotiate a deal” with Congress on more pandemic aid.

He repeated his assertions that a full economic recovery isn’t possible with COVID-19 still raging, and that reopening schools safely is a necessary part of both limiting the virus’ spread and allowing parents to return to work.

The Trump campaign noted in reply that the president has asked Congress for $105 billion in aid for schools.

Addressing the ongoing unrest over racial injustice and policing, Biden told reporters he believes the Kenosha officer who shot Blake “needs to be charged.” Biden also called for charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police in March. Biden did not name specific charges and said authorities must conduct full investigations.

Biden also called for legal action on citizens who’ve committed violence as part of civil unrest, a direct answer to Trump’s continued assertions that Biden backs violent protests.

The former vice president said he plans to meet in Kenosha with civic and business leaders and law enforcement. He also will meet with members of the Blake family; he’s already talked with some of them by phone. Blake remains hospitalized after he was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while authorities were trying to arrest him.

“We’ve got to put things together, bring people together,” Biden said, adding that he was “not going to tell Kenosha what they have to do” but instead would encourage citizens to “talk about what has to be done.” The president, he said, “keeps throwing gasoline on the fire” and ”encouraging people to retreat to their corners.”

Trump made his own foray to Kenosha on Tuesday, underscoring his blanket support for law enforcement, while blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who said he went to Kenosha, armed, to help protect businesses. He is now in custody.

Before his remarks Wednesday, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, met with public health experts. He emerged saying Trump’s inaction on school aid has left a haphazard response nationally.

Biden said he doesn’t want to usurp local authorities’ power to decide how to conduct classes. But he said the federal government should make local systems financially whole as they incur considerable costs from software for virtual instruction, personal protective equipment for on-site employees and reducing class sizes for social distancing at schools that bring students to campus.

As Trump and Biden dueled Wednesday, presidential debate organizers announced moderators for the fall. Chris Wallace of Fox News will lead the Sept. 29 debate, followed Oct. 15 by Steve Scully of C-SPAN and NBC’s Kristin Welker on Oct. 22.

Also ahead of his Wisconsin trip, Biden’s campaign launched a $45 million advertising buy for a one-minute ad featuring his condemnations of violence during a speech Monday, along with his assertions that Trump is “fomenting” the unrest. The ad, which has English and Spanish language versions, is running on national cable networks and in local markets across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction,” Biden says in the ad. Trump, he says, “shows how weak he is” by “his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia.”

It’s an answer to a consistent charge from Trump and his allies: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Indeed, when in Kenosha, Trump toured a block charred by protesters’ fire, called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country.

The ad was launched as the Biden campaign announced a record $360 million fundraising haul for August. Biden said Wednesday the money will allow an aggressive ad campaign to counter “lies” from Trump, such as the president’s erroneous claims that Biden has not denounced violent protesters and that he wants to “defund the police.”

Trump’s advisers hope his stances shift attention away from the pandemic that has all but crippled the nation during the president’s fourth year in office. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Biden’s trip Thursday will be the first time since 2012 that a Democratic presidential nominee campaigns in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton did not campaign in the state after she lost the primary in 2016, one of the reasons often cited for Trump’s narrow victory.

Chippewa County ties one-week high mark in new cases, new high positivity rate


CHIPPEWA FALLS — With Labor Day looming, Chippewa County public health director Angela Weideman recommended people skip their annual gatherings this year, or make extra plans to have a safe event.

“If you want to get together, please do it responsibly,” Weideman said. “The safest option overall is not to have a gathering.”

If an event is held, Weideman recommends that chairs be set six feet apart as a reminder for guests to social distance from each other, have extra masks available, put out paper towels instead of cloth ones and encourage everyone to drink from their own cans and bottles.

Weideman said her concern is that people will let their guard down and not stay vigilant in wearing masks or social distancing.

“Over the past few weeks, we’re seeing more cases from community spread and large events,” she said. “We’ve seen cases come from weddings.”

In the past week, Chippewa County saw 40 new COVID-19 cases, to an overall total of 351 cases. The 40 new cases ties the county’s single-week high, from two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, 561 tests were given, translating to a 7.1% positivity rate, a new one-week high. Overall tests given climbed 48 from last week’s 513 tests, but still down from the 629 given two weeks ago. Weideman previously said her goal is for the county to reach 900 tests performed each week.

Chippewa County still has just one person hospitalized among 47 active cases, with no deaths related to COVID-19. At 351 total confirmed cases, Chippewa County has the most in the state from a county that has no COVID-related deaths.

Last week, the Center for Disease Control rolled back its guidelines for COVID-19 testing, saying that someone who has been exposed to the disease doesn’t necessarily need to be tested if no symptoms appear. Weideman rejected the new guidelines, noting the state’s Department of Public Health is still recommending tests.

“I’d like to see anyone who has been in close contact get tested,” she said.

Weideman is pleased that most county residents and businesses have gotten used to the state’s mandatory mask wearing policy, which is set to expire Sept. 28.

“We’ve had over 60 reports of businesses or individuals who aren’t following the order,” she said.

Follow-up letters have been sent to between one-fourth and half of those businesses or individuals after repeated violations. However, Weideman said no citations have been issued in the county.

Weideman said the mask mandate is working, and she hopes the policy is continued after Sept. 28.

“With the numbers we’re seeing, I don’t think we’ll see the virus go away,” she said.

All schools in the county are now open. Those that opened early, in Cornell and Stanley-Boyd, have reported no new cases, she said.

“I’m happy to report things are going well,” Weideman said. “I think that (masks) will help keep kids in school.”