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Chippewa County
Vaccine rollout begins among health workers, long-term care employees in Chippewa County
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CHIPPEWA FALLS — About 500 Chippewa County residents have received COVID-19 vaccinations so far, but more health care workers and long-term care employees should be receiving their shots in coming weeks, said Public Health Director Angela Weideman.

In her weekly press conference Wednesday, Weideman said that “1A” workers, like doctors, nurses and nursing home employees will get vaccines first. The “1B” essential workers, like law enforcement, firefighters and teachers, and those who have a great deal of contact with the public, will likely get vaccines in early to mid-February, she said. The “1C” group are adults ages 65 and older, and they will be next in line.

“It will take several months to implement,” Weideman cautioned.

The county is receiving vaccines from both drug manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer, she added. Those doses are then sent to area hospitals.

In the past week, the White House has been critical of states and hospitals for not getting vaccines to the public after they have been delivered. However, Weideman assured the public that the vaccines are being used, and not stored.

“When they are getting vaccines, they are giving them immediately,” Weideman said.

People who receive the vaccine are given a card, stating which brand of vaccine they received, and dated with when they need to return to obtain their second “booster” shot.

At the same time Weideman is working on getting the vaccine program rolling, she also is working with her staff on promotional plans to encourage the public to take the vaccine; recent polls indicate perhaps a third of Americans are hesistant or resistant to taking it.

Weideman also is encouraged at seeing continued improvement in COVID-19 numbers in the county. In the past week, 138 people tested positive for the virus. However, the positivity rate remains high among those tested, at 38.7%.

For two months, Chippewa County has been classified as being at a “severe risk” level. Weideman announced that the county has dropped to the “high risk” level, which means that the recommendation is indoor gatherings limited to 15 people and outdoor gatherings limited to 50 people. At a severe risk level, the recommendation was only people residing within the household to gather.

“It’s a significant difference,” Weideman said of the lowered risk level. “I’m very happy to see our numbers come down. I’m definitely feeling optimistic. I feel hopeful.”

There are currently just eight county residents hospitalized, down from a high mark of 25 two months ago. About 73% of hospital beds in the northwest Wisconsin region are in use, including about 78% of ICU beds. A total of 178 Chippewa County residents have been hospitalized at some point in the past 10 months.

In the past week, two more people have died from symptoms related to the virus, bringing the county’s total to 67 deaths.

In other good news, all six elementary schools in the Chippewa Falls school district reopened on Monday. Weideman said most of the elementary schools in the county are now open for in-person learning.

While Weideman is enthusiastic about the decline in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, she urged people to continue to be vigilant, practice social distancing, and wear masks around others. On Tuesday, a record-high of 3,775 people died nationwide from the virus. Weideman pointed to Los Angeles County, where on average, four people are dying every hour from the virus.

Rime ice formed on trees along 54th Avenue on Wednesday in the town of Seymour after a heavy fog the night before. Rime icing occurs when tiny supercooled water droplets freeze onto a surface that is below freezing, according to the National Weather Service. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Preliminary hearing in Girl Scout crash case postponed

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A court hearing has been once again delayed for John E. Stender, who was the passenger in a pickup truck that struck and killed three Girls Scouts and a mother on Nov. 3, 2018.

Stender, 23, 817 2nd Ave., Eau Claire, is charged in Chippewa County Court with harboring/aiding a felony-falsifying information, and intentionally abusing a hazardous substance, which is a misdemeanor. Stender was slated to appear for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday.

However, his attorney, Harry Hertel, submitted a letter to Judge James Isaacson, saying that Stender has tested positive for COVID-19 and was “very ill.”

Isaacson opted to reschedule the hearing for Feb. 2. Stender remains free on a signature bond.

This is the second time the preliminary hearing has been delayed. Hertel filed a request on Nov. 3 for a new judge to be appointed; it was originally assigned to Judge Steve Cray, who retired. It was ten assigned to Judge Ben Lane. The reassignment to Judge Isaacson delayed the matter two months.

No trial dates have been set. An attorney can only request one judicial substitution.

Stender was a passenger in Colten Treu’s pickup when it struck a group of Girl Scouts as they cleaned debris out of a ditch on Highway P in Lake Hallie. In March, Treu was sentenced to 54 years in prison for causing the four deaths and severely injuring another person. Stender remains free on bond, with the requirement that he cannot possess or consume alcohol or illegal drugs, including aerosol cans for “huffing” purposes.

According to the criminal complaint, Treu and Stender had purchased an aerosol can at the Lake Hallie Walmart and were driving back to Treu’s home at 1060 Joseph St., Chippewa Falls. Both men had “huffed” from the aerosol can during the drive.

The crash happened as Treu was driving northbound on Highway P, just south of the Highway 29 overpass. Treu’s vehicle veered off the west side of the road and struck the group of Girl Scouts as they were removing litter.

During his sentencing hearing, Treu claimed Stender caused the crash. Treu said he yelled at Stender, saying “What are you doing?” when Stender grabbed the wheel.

Treu said he overcorrected the vehicle and wound up going in the ditch, where he struck the Girl Scouts. However, Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell pointed out that Treu didn’t hit his brakes and immediately stop the vehicle.

In interviews with law enforcement, Stender admitted he grabbed the wheel of the car, causing Treu to yell at him. Stender recalled seeing one person being struck by the vehicle; he hit his head and lost consciousness. He woke up just before they arrived at Treu’s home.

After striking the five people — one Girl Scout who was hit survived the crash — Treu drove his vehicle back to his home rather than staying at the scene. He then hid the pickup in a garage. Stender did not immediately assist law enforcement or return to the scene, leading to the charge of assisting or harboring a felon.

Newell filed the charges against Stender just days after Treu’s sentencing concluded.

The four people killed in the crash were Autumn Helgeson and Jayna S. Kelley, 9, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the town of Lafayette.

Eau Claire public health asks smaller patient care providers to sign up for shots
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Major health care systems in the Chippewa Valley are already starting to give second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to their workers while local public officials are reaching out to smaller employers with workers likely to encounter the coronavirus while doing their jobs.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department on Wednesday put out a call that asked organizations with health care workers unaffiliated with the major systems to sign up for a list that will provide priority access to the vaccine for their employees.

“The goal is to efficiently get this population vaccinated,” the Health Department stated in the news release.

By asking these employers to fill out an online survey, public health officials will create a database to match these small organizations and their employees with state-approved vaccinators who are receiving supplies every week.

Their workers must be in positions that fall under the 1A phase for vaccination, which is the first group of people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This group consists of health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

Doctors, nurses, paramedics and others who work in medical clinics and hospitals are a major portion of the group, but the Health Department’s news release also lists a variety of other professions that fit the 1A category.

Dentists, chiropractors, behavioral health professionals, blood donation facility employees, home health providers, social workers, optometrists and other eye clinic workers are among them. People working in hospice care, imaging services, mortuaries, pharmacies, physical therapy practices and shuttle services that transport people to medical appointments are on the list as well.

Category 1A also includes companies contracted by others to do custodial, maintenance, security or food service work in buildings where patients are seen.

The Health Department stated that its list of occupations included in the 1A group is not even exhaustive and advised employers to check a document from the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee for more information on employees that could qualify for priority vaccination.

While public health officials are rounding up smaller health care providers and other workplaces that haven’t begun vaccinating their employees, the major medical systems in the region are already charging forward with administering second shots to their workers.

Green Bay-based Prevea Health, which has clinics in the Chippewa Valley and is partners with Hospital Sisters Health System, began distributing its second dose of vaccine to employees this week.

“From the moment these vaccines first became available to us by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services just 21 days ago, our teams have been working swiftly, yet carefully to effectively immunize every health care worker within the Prevea Health and HSHS Wisconsin systems that wishes to be vaccinated,” Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO at Prevea Health, said Wednesday in a news release.

Prevea Health began vaccinating employees on Dec. 16 and a Green Bay doctor was the first on Wednesday to get his second dose. Employees of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls will be among people to get their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in coming days and weeks, according to Prevea’s news release.

The Pfizer vaccine administered at Prevea and HSHS facilities is being given in two doses, which are spaced 21 days apart to provide its maximum 94% effectiveness, the health care provider stated.

Marshfield Clinic Health System has provided vaccinations to nearly 4,000 of its employees throughout Wisconsin, including those who work in Eau Claire.

Spokesman Matt Schneider said that represents about a third of Marshfield Clinic’s total workforce.

Like Mayo Clinic, Marshfield Clinic also began administering the second doses of vaccine to employees this week.

Vaccinations at nursing homes are already under way but more vaccines need to become available to move onto assisted living facilities, according to the Health Department.

After health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents are vaccinated, the next group eligible when more shots are available will be “essential workers.” Government officials have not yet clearly defined what occupations will be included in that category. Following those workers, other specific populations to get the vaccine will be senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions. The vaccine is expected to be available to the general public in spring or summer, according to the Health Department.

Man charged with firing gun toward girlfriend found competent
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — An Eau Claire man charged with firing a shot toward his girlfriend when she tried to leave their residence following an argument has been found competent to assist with his defense.

Eau Claire County Judge Sarah Harless on Wednesday found Duane M. Rene competent after a second competency exam conducted last month made that conclusion.

The exam was conducted by psychologist Caroline Carr. Attorneys for both the prosecution and defense agreed with her findings.

Rene remains under a $50,000 cash bail. He returns to court Feb. 8.

Rene, 66, is charged with several felony counts including first-degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, false imprisonment and bail jumping. Rene is also charged with misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct.

Defense attorney Matthew Krische requested Rene’s first competency evaluation in June and Judge Michael Schumacher granted that request on June 30.

The exam was conducted by psychiatrist Rebecca Seifert. Based on her report, Harless on July 31 found Rene incompetent to stand trial, but ruled that he is likely to regain competency with treatment. Harless then approved an involuntary medication order for Rene.

According to the criminal complaint:

Eau Claire police responded to Rene’s Crescent Avenue residence May 27 for a report of a single gunshot and a woman screaming. Officers arrived and spoke to the woman, who said she was shot at by Rene. The woman said she lives with Rene and they are in a relationship.

The woman said Rene is paranoid and controls every movement she makes. She is not allowed to own a phone or work. She said the only time she is allowed to leave the house is when she goes for a walk.

The woman said she and Rene argued on May 25. He grabbed a rifle and used its stock to hit her in the shoulder, which caused significant pain. On May 27, the woman said, she was asleep for most of the night. She awoke and wanted to go to the hospital because she was in pain from poison ivy.

Rene told her she could not go to the hospital and they began to argue. Rene blocked the woman’s path when she tried to leave. After Rene grabbed a rifle, the woman pushed past him and tried to run out of the residence.

The woman got out of the house and started to run for the street, yelling for help. Rene, who was on the deck, then fired a shot from the rifle.

Rene was at the back door of the residence when officers arrived and was taken into custody without incident.

An officer found a rifle in the residence. There was a spent shell casing in the chamber of the rifle. There was an additional spent casing on the kitchen floor.

Based on where the woman was when she heard the shot, officers found a bullet impact in an enclosed trailer parked behind the house.

Rene told police he lit two bottle rockets from the back deck to try to scare the woman as she was running from the residence.

Officers asked Rene about the rifle they recovered. He said he had no idea why it was in the residence.