Weekend Roundup: Wisconsin Department of Corrections will again open its facilities for in-person visits

A retired librarian's artwork, a salon that educates on textured hair, winter weather and more

Light shines off of twisted barbed wire against the backdrop of a blue sky.
Sunlight reflects off of barbed wire that sits atop the fencing surrounding Lincoln Hills youth prison Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Irma, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline across the state, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is once again opening its facilities for in-person visitation starting March 1.

In a press release, DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said he appreciated people’s patience with changing guidance at the state’s correctional facilities.

“Family connection during incarceration has shown to have a positive impact on success upon return to the community, and in-person visitation is one way of maintaining that connection,” he said.

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Visitors will be required to test or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test through March 13; after that tests will not be required.

Tuesday’s reopening is the second time DOC has reopened for in-person visits since the beginning of the pandemic. DOC facilities were originally closed in March 2020 until July 2021. But with the rise of the omicron variant, they were closed again in December 2021, until now.

“We’re happy to resume many normal operations, and we hope there are no more suspensions of those operations,” Carr said. “However, we have and will continue to follow the science in our COVID-19 mitigation efforts.”

As of Thursday, there were 77 active COVID-19 infections among people in DOC care and 22 DOC employees with active cases. Eighty-three percent of inmates are fully vaccinated and more than 69 percent of those eligible for a booster dose have received one, according to DOC.

Wisconsin DHS: COVID-19 Weekly Recap

The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin is 779 as of Friday. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has confirmed 11,887 total deaths from the disease.

Sixty percent of Wisconsinites are fully vaccinated 82.4 percent of people age 65 and older, 56.5 percent of children age 12 to 17 and 22.7 percent of children 5 to 11 years old. As of Friday, 32.5 percent have received a booster shot.

At the tale end of last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mark Johnson wrote this story breaking down some key questions and points surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, here are a couple:

What’s the difference between an epidemic, pandemic and endemic? And where are we at with the COVID-19 pandemic? When will it become endemic?

The thoughts on the latter differ between Ali H. Mokdad, chief strategy officer for population health at University of Washington in Seattle, and Ben Weston, medical director of the Milwaukee County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center.

“The phase when we needed mask mandates is over,” Mokdad said. “The pandemic phase of COVID is over. We’re now into the endemic phase. But COVID itself isn’t over. It will be with us for a very long time.”

“It’s too early to say we’re in an endemic phase,” Weston said. “The take-home point really is caution. Every trend is going down and going down quickly, but our disease burden is still high.”

As Johnson reported: “In Wisconsin, over the last six weeks, COVID-19 cases have plunged more than 10-fold from 18,033 on Jan. 5 to 1,379 on Feb.15. Over the same period the percentage of tests that were positive — an early indication of trends in hospitalizations and deaths — dropped from around 28 percent to just under 9 percent.”

What about masks in public, especially on airplanes or for those who are immunocompromised?

While mask mandates are likely to be lifted in many places indoors — as already is the case in major cities across the country — they could remain in place in others.

“Personally, wearing a mask in an airplane could remain a good idea,” Rafael Meza, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said.

There is another reason why people choose to continue wearing masks, Johnson reported: “Millions with compromised immune systems, including patients with cancer and organ transplant recipients, remain especially vulnerable to infection and serious illness. Estimates suggest the immunocompromised make up between 2.7 percent and 3 percent of the U.S. population. That means the other 97 percent must consider whether they may be putting others at risk if they stop wearing masks indoors.”

And for William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, he is asking for some caution.

“Better to wear the mask for a month too long, than to take a mask off a month too soon,” Schaffner said.

Retired librarian uses retirement to capture Milwaukee scenery in his artwork

John Suess is a Milwaukee artist and retired librarian. His paintings illustrate local landscapes and scenery, particularly images from golf course routes.

“I find my inspiration outdoors,” Suess told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “While working in my garden, playing golf or taking a walk or drive, I will often be captivated by the beauty of nature and stop to capture it with my camera. Then, I’ll make it come back to life on canvas.”

He began painting and drawing at the young age of 3, and learned photography from his grandmother around age 5, which he said has helped him capture landscapes to reference for his paintings.

Throughout Suess’ retirement, he has produced more than 150 pieces of art. Browse his website and Etsy shop to see and purchase some of Suess’ work.

Entrepreneur opens salon, begins educating community on textured hair and being ‘all of your Black girl magic’

Takieta Pritchard is the owner of City’s Best Braids in Appleton, and she is on a mission to educate youth and guardians about caring for textured hair.

According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Pritchard has become a sought-after stylist but she has another part of her job: She is focusing on an educational series called “Our Ethnic Hair.”

She holds classes once every few weeks at the salon. Kids and their parents learn about specific hair types that require different products and styling.

“It is very important for an African American child to know how to take care of hair; your hair is your crown,” Pritchard told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “It is important as your livelihood — if your hair is not good, your day isn’t right.”

Pritchard previously worked in the mental health field. She, her husband and three daughters moved to the Fox Cities area about five years ago from Cleveland, a more diverse community. She told the paper the transition to Wisconsin was difficult.

“What ultimately led to my decision to leave my job was that it wasn’t diverse and I always felt targeted,” Pritchard said. “This business is definitely a mission, because I have three girls growing up in a predominantly white community. It’s different from where we lived before. The salons here didn’t understand hair; they didn’t know what it meant to be all of your Black girl magic.”

Wisconsinites share their winter weather views

The weather this week was wild. So, we decided to share some of the things people tweeted about. Enjoy, and have some chuckles — we all deserve them.

Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, forcing families to flee their homes

Early Thursday morning Russia invaded Ukraine, forcing Ukrainians to flee their homes, waiting for hours on traffic-jammed roads hoping to find safety elsewhere.

While reports Friday showed the Russian advance was going “slower than the Kremlin anticipated,” forces continued their move to the country’s capital city of Kyiv, NPR reported.

In a statement Friday, leaders of NATO condemned the invasion and called for an immediate withdrawal. The alliance also said it was bulking up its defenses on the eastern front.

“We will make all deployments necessary to ensure strong and credible deterrence and defence across the Alliance, now and in the future. Our measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory,” NATO leaders wrote in a statement. “We call on Russia to immediately cease its military assault, to withdraw all its forces from Ukraine and to turn back from the path of aggression it has chosen. This long-planned attack on Ukraine, an independent, peaceful and democratic country, is brutal and wholly unprovoked and unjustified.”

Leaders including President Joe Biden again turned to sanctions on Russia’s military and economy — hoping to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conquest. The latest sanctions limit exports to Russia, target its state-owned enterprises and “stunt the ability to finance and grow the Russian military,” NPR reported.

Wisconsin’s congressional delegation were quick to decry the invasion, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin saying Putin’s actions violated international law. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also placed responsibility on Putin for “the tragedies unfolding.”

Schools across Wisconsin also addressed the invasion, ensuring students had time and space to ask questions. In Madison, teachers answered questions like, “Am I going to get drafted?” and “Is this going to cause World War III?” The Cap Times reported on how teachers are addressing the ongoing conflict.

The situation in Ukraine is constantly developing and evolving. For up-to-date information, visit npr.org.

Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.