Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader Telegram. June 14, 2021.

Editorial: Time not an excuse on vaccinations

One of our editorial board members had an interesting encounter over the weekend. He went into a convenience store and the person working the counter was the only one there wearing a mask.

They chatted for a minute. The company in question said vaccinated employees didn’t need masks. Since the worker hadn’t gotten the vaccination yet, he was masked up. But that led to the inevitable question: why? The vaccine has been widely available for months, and walk-in appointments are available in Eau Claire.

The response was familiar, one most people have given at one time or another. The employee said he just hadn’t found the time to get it done. He wasn’t opposed to the vaccine or a skeptic, as some of the loudest voices currently are. It was about just making the decision to get it done.

We’ve all been there. There’s a lot happening in everyone’s lives, and it’s easy to put things off. We all have to prioritize what we’re doing in a given day, and some things simply have to make way for others.

So, while we understand the employee’s explanation, it says more about his priorities than his time. And it really is time for people to be vaccinated.

The vast majority of people are now eligible to be vaccinated, and there is good reason to think the under-12 age bracket will be brought in to the eligible pool this summer. The break point most commonly discussed in the current studies is for children ages 5-11.

Even without that extension, Eau Claire County marked a major milestone this past weekend. It hit 50% vaccination, the 19th county in Wisconsin to do so.

That’s a significant mark. Areas that have reached 50% vaccination tend to see significant drops in COVID cases as the pool of potential infections drops below half. But the rate of improvement locally remains cause for concern. Eau Claire County vaccinated 0.7% of the population last week. So did St. Croix County. That matched the overall Wisconsin rate, so those counties kept pace statewide.

Every other area county fell short of that mark. With only Trempealeau County vaccinating more than half of its residents, there’s clearly room for improvement. That’s particularly true for Taylor, Clark and Rusk counties, all of which have fewer than one-third of their residents vaccinated.

It’s not surprising that the fastest-growing group being vaccinated remains those ages 12-15. That is, after all, the group of eligible people from whom the vaccine was withheld the longest. Nearly a quarter of that age bracket has received at least one vaccine dose statewide.

The claims of those who are simply opposed to the vaccines are wearing thin. The vaccines don’t change your DNA. They don’t have particularly high rates of complications. They are extremely effective against the earlier variants of COVID and remain highly effective against emerging strains. And they quite clearly protect against severe cases in the instances in which a person who was vaccinated is unfortunate enough to contract COVID.

There was a bit of good news statewide last week. Vaccinations, which had been trending down since the peak in early April, ticked up just a bit. The number given was still less than a quarter of what it was at the peak, but it suggests the dramatic slowdown in vaccinations may be bottoming out.

Slow, steady progress in vaccinations isn’t good enough, not when we could be doing so much more. But it’s better than the alternative of fading efforts and complacency.

Every person who is fully vaccinated is one fewer target for this virus, one fewer person who could spread it to others. And that is quite clearly still happening. State data shows about one out of every five Wisconsin hospitals still have an ICU at peak capacity. We’re still averaging about two COVID deaths per day statewide. The country is nearing 600,000 deaths.

As we said earlier in this editorial, it’s not really about whether people have the time in most cases. It’s about whether vaccination is enough of a priority to make the time. There’s no real excuse, no real cause to delay.

If you are eligible and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s time to make time. Do the responsible thing for yourself and your loved ones. Get vaccinated.

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Kenosha News. June 15, 2021.

Editorial: Welcome back to Wisconsin, Big Boy

There’s big news coming to Wisconsin and we couldn’t be giddier with anticipation.

Big Boy is coming back!

That’s Big Boy in the chubby guy with the pompadour hairstyle and checkered bib overalls holding aloft a double-decker hamburger with melted cheese, drenched in Thousand Island dressing and garnished with lettuce and tomato.

After an absence of 26 years, the Big Boy diner franchise is returning to Wisconsin with a July 14 grand opening planned in Germantown at the site of Jerry’s Old Town Inn on Main Street.

Big Boy restaurants were once prevalent in southeast Wisconsin. There was one on Douglas Avenue in Racine and one on Highway 50 in Kenosha. Looking for a fresher, more modern eating offering, the Marcus Corporation, which held the Big Boy franchise in the region for 37 years, decided to end the relationship with Big Boy in the 1990s.

But the memory of the Big Boy menu never left many a resident of southeast Wisconsin who relished a Big Boy, Brawny Lad (a burger with a whole circle slice of onion), the Slim Jim ham and cheese sandwich, milk shakes with whip cream in a tall sundae glass and numerous other breakfast, lunch and dinner options.

We even fondly remember the “Adventures of Big Boy” comic books that were handed out at the cash register and, of course, the Big Boy statues that greeted customers at the entrance to the restaurants.

In the quarter of century that has passed since Big Boy disappeared from the landscape of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, many a cheesehead has found themselves turning off an interstate exit when spotting a Big Boy when traveling out of state, be it neighboring Michigan or as far south as Louisville. According to Big Boy’s website, the chain has 74 locations in the United States.

On June 5, Germantown-based businessmen Chaz Hastings and Scott Carleton announced that they had secured a franchise deal giving them Big Boy franchise rights for Wisconsin.

The Germantown Big Boy, which Hastings and Carleton say will included a Big Boy museum and shop selling Big Boy merchandise, is scheduled to have a special preview event starting at 3 p.m. Thursday with fanfare that includes a nostalgic car show, retro rock n roll, 85-cent Big Boy sandwiches (to mark the 85th anniversary of the restaurant chain’s founding) and an appearance by the Big Boy himself.

According to a news release, Hastings and Carleton plan on operating two Big Boy food trucks for festivals or private events. They also would like to open a location in Brookfield and have permanent stands at event venues such as Lambeau Field, American Family Field and State Fair Park, Hastings told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

They also say their goal is to open multiple locations throughout southeast Wisconsin over the next three years. To that we say Racine, Kenosha and Lake Geneva will be more than happy to show locations for future franchises in our communities.

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Wisconsin State Journal. June 9, 2021.

Editorial: Passenger rail must get back on track in Wisconsin

Renewed plans for passenger rail service to Madison and other Wisconsin cities are encouraging, though we’ve been disappointed by similar promises before. Fingers crossed that this time will be different.

Amtrak recently published a map showing new high-speed rail lines connecting communities across the country. Locally, Madison would land a station with easy access to Eau Claire, Green Bay, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee.

This isn’t the first time that officials have dangled fast and convenient passenger rail connections. A decade ago, Democratic state and federal officials announced a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. Lots of potential travelers got their hopes up, only for Republican Gov. Scott Walker to reject more than $800 million in federal funding for the project.

Then in 2014, a group of rail enthusiasts floated a route between Madison to Chicago. They hoped to raise private sector support to pay for it. The dream floundered again.

Nothing is guaranteed this time, either. Amtrak’s map is a vision of what could happen by 2035, not what will happen. Hearings and conversations about where rail should go must proceed. Then public officials will face the hard work of figuring out how to pay for it all.

Amtrak published the map partly in response to President Joe Biden’s proposal to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure and other programs. The proposal includes $85 billion to improve and expand the nation’s rail network. It would be a great start, but only a start.

America lags far behind much of the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to passenger rail. Catching up will be expensive, but the benefits could be tremendous.

Rail travel can be more efficient than cars and reduce congestion. It also generates less greenhouse gas emissions than road vehicles and planes. Rail travel can reduce the need to build expensive new highways. Trains are safer than driving. They can be a convenient, affordable option for business and leisure travelers.

New rail lines could carry freight, too. Connecting Madison to a speedier national rail network would make this region even more attractive to economic development.

Most trips on Amtrak now are slower and more expensive than by car, especially if it’s a family trip. As long as that’s the case, train travel will be a tough sell to Americans. Yes, rail offers other benefits, such as not being behind the wheel. But it has downsides, too, such as not having a car at your destination.

A sweet spot must be found where trains are faster than driving and cheaper than flying. Hitting it will require high-speed routes, new investment and lines. Buildout must focus on modern rail technology, not expanding the old model.

Amtrak has provided a vision worth pursuing. Maybe that starts with a massive infrastructure bill. Maybe it’s through some other funding. Wherever the money comes from, let’s not allow the dream to end in disappointment again.

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