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Inside a COVID unit; GOP redistricting strategy; food shortages in schools; children’s college savings programs; unemployment system overhaul

 

Of note: This week we highlight the Appleton Post-Crescent’s look inside ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton’s COVID-19 unit, where exhausted doctors and nurses entered their 19th month of a pandemic that persists despite the widespread availability of effective vaccines. The Fox Valley region’s 13 hospitals saw 106 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday and just two of 104 intensive care unit beds were open, Madeline Heim reports. “The latest flood of patients is a depressing repeat for hospital staff, many of whom thought the arrival of vaccines earlier this year would bring the end of the pandemic.” Fully vaccinated Wisconsinites in August were nine times less likely to face COVID-19 hospitalizations and 11 times less likely to die from the virus, according to Department of Health Services data. But just 62% of eligible Wisconsinites — and about 54% of all residents — are fully vaccinated. “I’d just like (people) to know that we don’t want people to keep coming here, having to relive this,” Trevor Cordes, a registered nurse, told Heim. “It feels like Groundhog Day.” 

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Registered nurse Lauren Zanders offers her hand to help a patient sit up in the COVID unit at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton on Tuesday. Wm. Glasheen / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Here’s what it’s like inside ThedaCare’s COVID unit, where another virus wave feels like ‘Groundhog Day’

Appleton Post-Crescent — September 30, 2021

The halls of the COVID-19 unit at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton were mostly quiet Tuesday morning except for a persistent bell-like “ding.” Each bell tone means there’s a patient who needs help. That morning, they were nearly constant. They echo in Trevor Cordes’ head when he leaves a shift and goes home, along with the alarms that ring out when a patient’s oxygen levels are dropping dangerously. He calls them phantom sounds. Fellow registered nurse Katie Harris hears them, too. “I’d venture to guess 99% of us hear it all night,” she said. 

Read more from PBS Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s Covid condition: Hospitals increasingly strained as Delta cases multiply

What do you do when 3,000 hamburger patties don’t show up? School districts face COVID-19-related food shortages

Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter — September 28, 2021

Most of us see empty grocery store shelves and limited restaurant menus because of pandemic-led food shortages and reluctantly change our meal plans accordingly. But what do you do if you planned to feed 3,000 hungry kiddos hotdogs for lunch and your bakery says it has no buns? This is the challenge the Manitowoc Public School District Food Service partner Chartwells — and districts throughout the United States — face this school year. A backlog in orders, worker shortages at food-producing facilities and lack of delivery drivers mean vendors have created a perfect COVID-19-related food storm, making it difficult for food services staff to fill their shelves and plan cafeteria lunches.

Wisconsin Capitol. Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Republicans say they want few redistricting changes, but a decade ago they moved millions of voters into new districts

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — September 27, 2021

Republican state lawmakers say they want to make as few changes as possible to Wisconsin’s election maps, but they took a dramatically different approach when they drew new legislative districts a decade ago. Then, GOP lawmakers moved huge swaths of voters into new districts to help create maps that would give them large majorities in the Legislature. In one case, they moved 719 times more voters than they needed to move in one Assembly district. Now, Republicans are claiming changes to the districts should be minimal — an approach that would ensure the next set of maps continues to help Republicans.

Revisit this coverage from Wisconsin Watch: High stakes for elections — and democracy — as U.S. Supreme Court nears decision on Wisconsin redistricting case

State plans to spend $80 million in federal funds to update antiquated unemployment system

Wisconsin State Journal — September 30, 2021

Gov. Tony Evers plans to direct up to $80 million in federal COVID funds to update the state’s outdated unemployment system after GOP lawmakers rebuffed the governor’s multiple requests to pay for upgrades with state taxpayer dollars. The state Department of Workforce Development on Wednesday announced a $16.5 million contract with Madison-based software development company Flexion Inc. to begin updating the department’s decades-old unemployment system. 

Related from Wisconsin Watch: ‘I got nothing left’: Wisconsin’s jobless pushed to brink as ideas swirl for mending torn safety net | Read our full Lives on Hold series here.  

MacDowell Montessori School Principal Andrea Corona walks a student into school during the first day of school at MacDowell Montessori School on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Milwaukee. Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Kids need education to succeed. Wisconsin needs skilled workers for the future. Could a children’s savings program be the answer?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — September 29, 2021

Talasheia Dedmon vividly recalls opening a package that arrived in the mail a few years after she gave birth to her son. Inside, she found a shirt for her son with “Future College Student” printed on it.  A document inside listed a balance of just over $1,000 in an account. Dedmon’s son was randomly chosen in 2007 to participate in a long-term study in Oklahoma examining the effectiveness of opening newborn savings accounts, which earmarks money for education in a college savings account known as a 529 plan. Research showed the program changed the aspirations of the kids and their mothers, raising educational expectations and lowering rates of maternal depression. Unlike other states, Wisconsin lacks a statewide program with automatic enrollment and deposits, even though residents could benefit greatly.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.