Updates from the State Senate - March 23, 2020

The photo above was taken at Pamperin Park in Howard.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District








Dear Friends and Neighbors,


For those of us following the developments around COVID-19 in Wisconsin, it can be hard to keep up with the rapidly changing news. While the response to Coronavirus continues to impact our daily lives, Wisconsinites have come together to work on slowing the spread of this highly-contagious and serious virus which should help us get back to our normal lives sooner. For this, we should all be proud.


To update some of the information from last week’s Updates from the State Senate e-newsletter and provide details on new developments, I’ve collected more information on the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and have included it below. But again, before I discuss some of these updates, I want to first encourage you to visit this state website which provides more information on each state agency’s role in this outbreak.




Earlier today, Governor Evers announced his intention to issue a ‘Safer-at-Home’ order tomorrow. While we await details on what the order will entail, I’d encourage you to continue following the news and my social media pages to see the latest details in these rapidly changing times.





I’m sure you’ve heard this enough recently, but according to state and federal health officials, actions you can easily work into your daily routine will help to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. These practices should be used even by people who don’t have any signs of illness as you may be a carrier of the virus but be asymptomatic, or you may be exposed to the illness while at a grocery store or pharmacy.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and use hand sanitizer between hand washings

  • Avoid close contact with others, even if they’re not currently ill (known as ‘social distancing’)

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

  • Stay home, especially if you’re sick or if you may have a compromised immune system

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands

  • Clean and disinfect frequently handled objects and touched surfaces (such as cell phones)

  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask, meaning you should only use one under limited circumstances unless you’re a health care professional to avoid scarcity


To understand the importance of social distancing, check-out this graphic:






As of this morning, there were a total of 416 positive tests and over 7,000 negative results from those tested who did not have Coronavirus in Wisconsin. Regrettably, there have also been four fatalities as a result of COVID-19. As numbers continue to rise, keep in mind that increased testing will lead to a better, more complete picture of the scope of this problem in Wisconsin. That’s why self-isolation and social distancing techniques for everyone, not just those who have tested positive for Coronavirus, is so important.


So far, five positive tests have been reported in counties in the 2nd Senate District. Outagamie County has had two positive tests, and Brown County has had three positive tests. Public health officials have also noted that Brown County has seen evidence of community transmission where a person who’s tested positive for COVID-19 has contracted the virus from an unknown source instead of by traveling to an affected area or knowingly being exposed to someone who tested positive. To date, Shawano and Waupaca Counties still do not have any positive tests.


To see the most up-to-date Coronavirus numbers compiled by the State Department of Health Services, visit their website.



Schools and Universities


K-12 schools closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak have no definitive opening date at this point. But actions this weekend by the Administration will help to alleviate some of that uncertainty faced by school districts. A new Executive Order helps to ensure the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) can streamline the waiver process for schools to reduce their hours of instruction requirements. The Order also provides DPI with some flexibility in upcoming due dates for school requirements, and suspends student teaching hour requirements to ensure those future educators can graduate on time.


The University of Wisconsin-System has also taken proactive steps to ensure students have some clarity and certainty moving ahead. For students who used campus housing, those campuses will be refunding 100% of the prorated charges for housing and dining for the balance of the spring semester.


This comes as many campuses have chosen to proactively announce that they do not anticipate holding in-person classes for the reminder of the spring semester. Further, campuses, including UW-Green Bay, are not going to be holding in-person graduation ceremonies in May. UW-Green Bay and other campuses are looking for alternative ways, including virtual experiences, to mark the tremendous achievement of graduation for those students.


As a reminder from last week, whether you’re a college student now at home or if you’re a parent with a child now at home, you may be eligible for 60 days of free broadband and Wi-Fi access from Charter to ensure you don’t miss out on any online instruction. Learn more about this officer from Charter on their website.





Wisconsin employers are facing difficult decisions as business slows or halts during this public health emergency, and for workers, this unfortunately may led to joblessness. Last week, executive action made it easier for workers to receive unemployment benefits from the Unemployment Insurance program, including waiving work search requirements during the benefits period.


If you’ve been laid off or are concerned about unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, please review these frequently asked questions on the Department of Workforce Development’s website and apply for benefits here.


Additionally, while many employers have had to make difficult choices with their employees in some industries, other industries, primarily grocery store and big box retailers, are faced with difficulties in finding new, temporary workers to fill extra needs during this busy period. To find one of these jobs, search the Job Center of Wisconsin’s website.



Assistance for Small Businesses


Small businesses suffering losses from the outbreak of COVID-19 have been faced with difficult decisions in the past few weeks. The decisions on the closing and opening of businesses is at the discretion of public health officials at the local level and the state Department of Health Services, who are often following the direction of similar experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies.


While these losses are hard to grapple with, I’ve been pleased to see steps towards relief offered by the state Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin District Office of the federal Small Business Administration. These entities have worked to make grant and loan programs available to small businesses during these trying times.


First, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has developed the Small Business 20/20 grant program in reaction to this outbreak. Through this program, entities that have relationships with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and have less than 20 full or part-time employees may be eligible to apply for grants of up to $20,000, with the program totaling $5 million, for assistance with payroll and rent expenses.


Also, just approved on Friday night, small businesses in Wisconsin will be eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the Small Business Administration. These loans are available for up to $2 million and may be used to meet the needs of payroll, accounts payable, and fixed debt payments until the outbreak subsides. The interest rates on these loans are competitive at 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profits.


Both programs are outlined, along with links for details on applying for these programs, on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s webpage dedicated to Coronavirus. Additionally, if you’re interested in a small business disaster loan, I would further encourage you to review this fact sheet on the loans from the Small Business Administration. Further information on applying to this program may be found here, and details on finding a regional office for assistance in filling out an application is available here.



Early Voting


The spring election on April 7th is still planned as scheduled based on the direction of the Governor. Registering to vote ahead of the election and voting by mail or voting in-person but early are important steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure you and your fellow voters can be protected during this election cycle. As Wisconsinites partake in our democratic process, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has provided the following guidance:

  • You must be registered to vote to request an absentee ballot.

  • The deadline to register by mail to vote has passed.

  • The deadline to register online to vote has been extended by federal court order until March 30.

  • The WEC is working to reinstate online registration in the next few days.

  • Voters who need to register may also do so in person at their municipal clerk's office until the Friday before the election and on Election Day at the polling place, pending details in the stay-at-home order.

  • Voters should request an absentee ballot as soon as possible for April 7. The deadline is April 2, but do not wait!

  • Request your absentee ballot online at the MyVote Wisconsin website.



Price Gouging and Consumer Protection


Price gouging, or raising the price of a product during a time of scarcity, is illegal during a statewide emergency. The Attorney General and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) are encouraging citizens to report suspected price gouging, false marketing claims, fraud, scams, and other consumer complaints related to Coronavirus. To report a complaint, please contact DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 422-7128 or DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov, or file an online complaint.


Additionally, learn more about DATCP’s response to COVID-19, including with their oversight of campgrounds and the state’s fuel supply, on their website.



Department of Motor Vehicles


The Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) closed last Friday to clean all of their facilities and are reopening today for certain services, but are limiting their functions during this public health emergency. Foremost, the DMV is implementing temporary changes to some services to driver services. This includes:

  • An automatic 60-day extension to expiring driver licenses and commercial driver licenses, including the waiving of late fees;

  • Cancelling driver skills tests, and;

  • Administrative suspension hearings being offered by phone and forms, not in person.


To continue using in-person DMV services, they recommend you schedule an appointment at this link. Those without an appointment may be served, but restrictions on the number of people allowed in DMV offices will be restricted per state guidelines. In-person customer service is limited to:

  • New driver licenses, and;

  • Issuing identification cards.


It’s unclear if all DMV activity will be stopped upon the issuance of the ‘safer-at-home’ order. Learn more about these DMV changes here. Questions about DMV services can also be answered by customer service representatives at the Driver Services hotline at (608) 264-7447.


For commercial truck drivers, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued COVID-19 Relief Effort Supply Permits to allow for additional goods to be efficiently transported over most Interstates, State Highways, and local roads. These temporary DOT actions allow for easier access, including fees being waived, for overweight permits and exemptions from hours of service limitations for truckers hauling supplies for grocery retailers. Learn more here.



Conservation Congress Moved Online


Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have required changes to the annual Conservation Congress meeting. A Wisconsin tradition, each April thousands of engaged citizens look forward to attending one of 72 Conservation Congress hearings around the state to vote on advisory questions related to natural resources management and sporting heritage. As of the drafting of this e-newsletter, this year, instead of in-person hearings on April 13th, citizens will be able to provide input online over the course of a 72-hour period starting on the 13th. To learn more about online participation and to find the most up-to-date information on these changes, please visit the Department of Natural Resources’ website.



Tax Filing Deadline Extended


For those of us that haven’t filed our tax return yet, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state Department of Revenue (DOR) have extended the tax filing deadline from April 15th to July 15th as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those looking to file later than April 15th do not need to file a request for an extension, and will not face any fees or penalties from filing later than normal. During this public health emergency, this is one less thing that Wisconsin residents will have to worry about.



U.S. Census Door-to-Door Efforts Delayed


The U.S. Census has delayed their door-to-door count efforts by at least one month until the end of April to protect their employees and members of the community that they interact with. However, you are still encouraged to complete the Census online or by mail before the door-to-door efforts begin.



Assistance of the National Guard


At the Governor’s direction, about 300 troops from the Wisconsin National Guard have been mobilized to state active duty to assist in the state’s response to COVID-19. These troops are being used largely for logistics, including the transportation of supplies throughout the state such as the 52,000 N95 masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 25,000 face shields, 20,000 surgical gowns, 100 coveralls, and 36,000 pairs of gloves that Wisconsin received from the Strategic National Stockpile.


Troops with special medical training are also being activated to assist in impacted areas, including at a Southeast Wisconsin nursing home with an outbreak.



Wisconsin’s Role in this Outbreak


While this outbreak continues, the role of Wisconsin manufacturers in keeping our country moving is becoming all the more evident. As noted by a WPR article, our state’s industry produces essential, everyday items including toilet paper and food that often go overlooked until they start becoming scarcer. This has kicked production into overdrive at some of these facilities as they look to keep up with increased demand across our state, the country, and the world.


Other Wisconsin companies, including Midwest Prototyping in Blue Mounds, are hard at work making face shields for health care workers, and many more are providing essential personal protective gear to health care workers as they continue facing a shortage of supplies.



Ways to Help in Your Community


Wisconsin residents have come together to combat the spread of COVID-19 and are practicing the appropriate prevention steps to protect yourselves, your family, and your neighbors. While those prevention steps are the most important thing to limit the impact of COVID-19 in our communities and to help us get through the outbreak sooner, there are other steps you can take to help your neighbors and community in these trying times.

  • While shopping, make sure you have enough for you and your family, but also help to make sure the next shoppers have goods left on the shelves for their families

  • Check-in on your neighbors, particularly the elderly or those living alone

  • Offer to assist an elderly or immunocompromised neighbor with their grocery shopping

  • Order takeout or delivery from a local restaurant (visit the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s website to find an establishment offering takeout or delivery near you), but be sure to order early this week before the issuance of the ‘safer-at-home’ order

  • Purchase a gift card from a local small business to help them get revenue during this difficult period

  • Donate blood to the Red Cross or other local blood banks if you’re healthy (for Red Cross blood donations, call 1-800-RedCross or visit their website) and if blood donations are still allowed under the ‘safer-at-home’ order

  • Thank first responders, nurses and doctors, truck drivers, grocery store employees, and others helping our country function during this difficult time (watch residents of Spain clap for their health care workers in this powerful video on YouTube)



Stress Helpline


While it’s important to keep up with the news during a global pandemic that’s begun hitting closer to home, the coverage can also cause anxiety, stress, and fear among Wisconsin residents. If you need to talk to someone during this difficult time, please reach out to Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.



Until Next Time


Despite this outbreak, my staff and I are still here to assist with questions you may have involving state government. While we may not always have the answer right away, we’ll do our best to assist with your questions and concerns revolving around COVID-19 or other comments and issues related to state government.


As always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to visit my website and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for regular updates on Coronavirus and more from around the 2nd Senate District and in the State Capitol.


Thanks for reading!



Senator Robert Cowles
Proudly Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District




Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 | Office: 118 South, State Capitol

Office: (608) 266-0484 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov




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