Updates from the State Senate - May 21, 2020

The photo above was taken on the Mountain Bay State Trail in Shawano County. 


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District







2-1-1 Wisconsin


COVID-19 has disrupted Wisconsinites’ lives in many different ways, but almost everyone has had to adjust due to this outbreak. For some, this change has caused troubles with putting food on the table, accessing broadband, or a new need for mental health services.


If you find yourself looking for assistance to navigate these disruptions or others caused by COVID-19, 2-1-1 Wisconsin is here to help. Text COVID19 to 211-211, call 2-1-1, or visit 2-1-1 Wisconsin online to learn more.



Dear Friends and Neighbors,


While it’s only been about a week since I last wrote, there continues to be some new developments surrounding COVID-19 in Wisconsin that I wanted to bring to your attention. This includes some of prevention steps to avoid COVID-19, information on an assistance program for farmers, details on new funding for child care providers, a link to purchase a State Park pass online, and much, much more.



Advocating for Brown County


In last week’s e-newsletter, I outlined some of the efforts I’ve been taking to get financial assistance to Brown County given the unique and substantial expenses they’ve incurred due to the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in their area. After sending a follow-up letter to the Governor detailing this request on May 8th, I recently heard back from him with no commitment to providing any assistance from the nearly $2 billion in federal funding at his disposal.


To reiterate this call for action, on Monday, Congressman Gallagher and I released a joint statement asking for the Governor’s partnership to secure funding for Brown County sooner rather than later. The federal funding, part of the CARES Act, was distributed to the state nearly a month ago, and yet we still have very few details on how this money will be spent to help local governments with their extra expenses due to COVID-19.


Other local governments with sizable outbreaks have received direct aid to assist in their ability to stand up a more robust response and decrease the impacts to other critical governmental functions. It’s my hope that the Governor can quickly work with us to provide certainty that Brown County is provided with the financial flexibility they need to combat COVID-19. Read the full statement from Congressman Gallagher and I and view both letters that I’ve sent to the Governor on my website.



Safely Getting Back to Business


As many businesses continue their operations and others restart for their first full week back after closure, please keep in mind the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. Many of these steps are simple, and can easily be worked into a daily routine. This won’t just help to protect against COVID-19, but many of these steps are important to also improve the experience for customers and staff, and help to regain confidence in our economy.


The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has the most comprehensive list of recommendations for reopening, and they include both general guidelines and fifteen industry-specific guidelines ranging from agriculture to restaurants to manufacturing and more. Check out WEDC’s Reopening Guidelines on their website. The Wisconsin Safety Council also has a series of recommendations for returning to work in eight steps. Their recommendations can be viewed here.


Both sets of guidelines recommend the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in the workplace. If you’re a business leader who’s looking to get a constant supply of PPE for your employees, it just became a little easier. WEDC has launched a new category in their Wisconsin Supplier Network to connect PPE manufacturers in Wisconsin with the companies that are looking to purchase PPE. This means that you can buy local so that the expense for this PPE will stay in our local economies. Learn more about this new feature on the Wisconsin Supplier Network on WEDC’s website.


Individuals are also encouraged to take steps to help prevent contracting COVID-19. These include:

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

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

  • Coughing into your arm and cover sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands

  • Consider CDC’s recommendations on wearing a mask in public, but preserve N95 masks for health care professions

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

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

  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently handled objects and touched surfaces (such as cell phones)


The Department of Health Services (DHS) also has a webpage to answer frequently asked questions about COVID-19, including how long it can live on surfaces, whether you should sanitize your groceries, how often you should wash your clothes, and more. You can find all of helpful answers to these questions and more on DHS’s website.



Federal and State Farm Assistance Program


In the April 24th version of the Updates from the State Senate e-newsletter, I discussed some different assistance programs for farmers during these difficult times. Following-up on one of the resources I mentioned, the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now released some additional details on their Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide direct payment assistance to farmers impacted by COVID-19.


While the applications for this program don’t open until the 26th, the USDA has created a webpage with information that would be useful to interested farmers, including eligibility criteria and details on how to begin the application progress even before the applications are open. Additionally, on this page, you can watch a webinar that was held last week on CFAP to gain further information. Learn more on the USDA’s website.


Another USDA program, the Farmers to Families Food Box program, is already beginning to help Wisconsin farmers with $317 million having been spent to purchase milk and other dairy products to package and help feed Americans struggling from school closures and job losses. This is part of an overall $1.2 billion effort to buy agricultural products from U.S. farmers. It’s good to see that the Farmers to Families Food Box program is helping local farmers find a market while also providing local residents quality nutrition during this difficult time. Learn more about this program from a recent Dairy Business Association press release.


In Wisconsin, yesterday the Governor announced that he’s creating a $50 million Wisconsin Farm Support Program, matching a request sent last month by several agricultural groups and dozens of my colleagues and I. This program, made possible through federal funding, will help farmers struggling with low commodity prices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are awaiting more details on the program, including eligibility and the application process, I believe this will be a good step to help rural Northeast Wisconsin recover.


I’ll share more details on this program when they become available, but in the meantime, you can learn more about the announcement on the Wisconsin State Farmer website.



Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness


The federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a widely utilized tool to help many Northeast Wisconsin small businesses get through these difficult times by offering loans with the potential for forgiveness. To have a loan forgiven, the recipient must use at least 75% of their funding for payroll expenses and keep good records of their expenses paid with the funding. Earlier this week, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released details and an application for loan forgiveness. If you’ve received PPP funding, learn more about loan forgiveness and apply on SBA’s website.



Nursing Home Updates


As many of us have a friend or family member in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home, we’ve been concerned about the greater impact that COVID-19 has on these vulnerable populations. The staff at long-term care facilities throughout the state understand these concerns, and they’re not only taking steps to find, isolate, and treat cases of COVID-19 sooner, but they’re also using proactive measures to prevent new cases and keep residents safe.


To help keep the chance of spread in nursing homes as low as feasible, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) continues to update their guidance for these facilities. Consistent with federal guidance, DHS is continuing to recommend that long-term care facilities should restrict all visitors and nonessential health care personnel, except for certain compassionate care circumstances such as an end-of-life situations. The guidance also talks about measures within a facility, such as limiting certain resident interactions and health screenings of all staff.


While these steps are important, finding cases of COVID-19 that may exist in long-term care facilities is perhaps the most crucial action that can be taken. Plans were recently announced to provide free testing and diagnostics to all of Wisconsin’s 373 nursing homes to test all residents that consent to testing and all staff, with the goal of having this testing completed by the end of May. This is an important action, and I applaud this announcement and hope to see this testing completed within this timeframe.



Symptoms and Local Testing Sites


The symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t exactly the same as the normal seasonal flu, and with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revising their list of symptoms, I wanted to take a moment to list the symptoms of this illness. They include:

  • Cough;

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;

  • Fever;

  • Chills;

  • Muscle pain;

  • Sore throat, and;

  • A new loss of taste or smell.


Not every person with COVID-19 will experience the same symptoms, and some people may not experience any. These symptoms may appear between two and fourteen days after exposure to the virus. To learn more about these symptoms, to check your symptoms online, and to learn when it’s the right time to seek medical care, please visit the CDC’s website. Additionally, you can visit the state Department of Health Services’ (DHS) website called Wisconsin Health Connect to enter your symptoms and hear from an RN with advice on your next steps.


If you’re concerned about symptoms you’re having, or are concerned about potential exposure to the virus, please remember that local testing options are available. Along with calling your health care provider and asking how to receive a test, drive-thru testing options remain open in both Brown and Outagamie Counties, and a new site will be opened in Waupaca County next week. To learn more about these options and find the latest information on other drive-thru testing sites, please visit DHS’s website.


Additionally, if you’re in the greater Green Bay area, Prevea Health just announced today that they’ll be offering free testing to any Northeast Wisconsin residents with symptoms at a drive-thru site in Ashwaubenon. You do not need to be a Prevea patient to use this service, and results will be available in two to seven days. To learn more and register for a test with Prevea, check-out this WFRV article.



State Park Stickers for Sale Online


Summer’s just around the corner, and Wisconsinites are itching to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, spring flowers, and fresh air (while practicing social distancing, of course). For the first time ever, due to decreased services at properties as a result of COVID-19, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is now making annual State Park admission stickers available for purchase online!


With it now being easier than ever to get ready to explore some of Wisconsin’s most pristine lands, all you’ll have left to do is lace up your shoes and get outdoors. Learn more and purchase a sticker for your vehicle on the DNR’s website.



Grant Program for Child Care Providers


Child care services have faced many obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), over 1,700 of the state’s 4,500 child care providers made the decision to close during this outbreak. Some providers faced obstacles from being closed as rent or mortgage and utility payments still came due. In addition, those child care providers that remained open to ensure persons headed into work still have this critical service available also faced problems including new expenses for extra cleaning and protective measures, along with lost revenue from the reduced number children under their care.


Thanks to a federal grant program, the state received about $51 million to help all child care providers with some of their extra expenses and lost revenue due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The program, approved last week by the Legislature’s budget committee, won’t only help out the child care center owners, but it will give a little extra money to workers in the child care field that kept coming to work during the pandemic.


The new ‘Child Care Counts: COVID-19 Emergency Payment Program’ opened for the first of three rounds of applications Monday and runs through May 29th. Learn more about the program and, if you work in the child care industry, apply for grant funding on DCF’s website.



Virtually Visit Wisconsin’s Best Travel Destinations


Soon, we’ll be able to return to some of our favorite Wisconsin vacation destinations, even if there’s a few changes. Maybe you’re already making plans to get back to the Northwoods for a few days on the lake, looking for a room closest to the water park entrance in the Dells, or are finding the best parks for a hike during a daytrip to Door County. Whatever your plans are, there’s plenty to explore in Wisconsin.


Have you wanted to visit Taliesin but haven’t made it there yet? Have you ever wondered what skiing the Birkebeiner looks like? Would you rather explore some historic planes in the EAA Museum? If you answered yes to any of these, you’re in luck. Travel Wisconsin has a page with dozens of free virtual experiences for people of all ages. This is not only a good way to pass a few hours indoors, but you may just find a new experience to add to your summer plans. Check out the full listing of virtual visits on Travel Wisconsin’s website.



Tips on Being a Smart and Alert Consumer


The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and state Office of Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) are reminding residents to be on the lookout for scammers looking to capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic with a few simple tips:

  • Before you make an online purchase, research the company to determine its legitimacy;

  • Be aware that if offers or shopping deals online sound too good to be true, they probably are;

  • Verify a charitable organization’s authenticity before you donate by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website;

  • Be skeptical of texts, emails, and calls from persons that claims they are with the government or government agencies, especially if they ask for personal information;

  • Do not respond to communications about COVID-19 vaccinations, as there are no approved vaccines at this time, and;

  • Get information about government actions regarding COVID-19 from reputable sources.


With these simple, yet important reminders, you can better protect your identity and your finances. These are just some of the steps you can take to protect yourself from scammers. Learn more on the FTC’s website. If you’re aware of any suspected scams, price gouging, or other consumer complains, report them to DATCP on their website.


OCI is also asking Wisconsinites to avoid insurance-related scams stemming from COVID-19. This fraud can come in many forms, but all of these scams can put your personal identity and finances at risk. Some of the common fraudulent activities that have been seen include fake ‘Corona’ insurance, bogus calls about cancelled health insurance plans, scams offering free tests online or over the phone that require your Social Security or Medicare number, and fake travel insurance.


Learn more about how to protect yourself from these insurance scams and learn how to report one of these suspected scams on OCI’s website.



Until Next Time


My staff and I continue to remain available to assist with questions you may have involving state government during this difficult time. While we may not always have the answer right away, we’ll do our best to assist with your questions and concerns involving COVID-19 or other issues related to state government.


To find the most up-to-date information on the Governor’s actions along with each state agency’s role in this outbreak, I’d encourage you to visit this website. To find the most up-to-date numbers on confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, visit the Department of Health Services’ website. You can also find the information I’ve shared in my last six e-newsletters on COVID-19 by visiting my website.


And as always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to 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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