RACINE — You do not want to mess with any of the Racine Warriors.
RACINE — Hundreds of COVID-19 vaccination appointments have gone unfilled in Racine.
The city’s health department reports that it transferred 510 doses to other providers because there were so many unfilled appointments at Festival Hall the week of April 12, in addition to 93 cancellations or no-shows that week at the Festival Hall vaccination site. The week prior, there were only 217 cancellations or no shows and zero transfers of doses.
“In order for us to get control of this (pandemic), we need to be vaccinated,” said Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox.
Bowersox thinks some of that lack of demand should be blamed on the loss of trust in vaccinations after use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on pause last week, the result of 6 cases out of 6.8 million vaccinations — less than 1 per 1 million vaccinated — being linked to blood clots in the brain.
This local observation appears to break from national trends. According to polling from YouGov, overall trust in COVID-19 vaccines continues to grow in the U.S. even if belief that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “safe” fell sharply over the past week.
Since the side effects are so rare and have been linked to no deaths, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expects J&J vaccinations to resume “in some form” within a week.
On Monday night, Bowersox told the City Council that the vaccination clinic at Festival Hall still had 200 available vaccination appointments remaining this week that people had not been taken. The Central Racine County Health Department, which provides vaccines out of its office, 10005 Northwestern Ave. in the Franksville area of Caledonia, likewise had available appointments throughout the week as of Monday.
Smaller, non-community-based providers haven’t reported the same issues with filling vaccine appointments, but they also have had far fewer appointments to fill.
Jeremy Laffin, owner/pharmacist at Hometown Pharmacy, 3900 Erie St., said he has been receiving 186 doses per week in recent weeks, but is expecting that number to drop in the coming weeks unless he is able to establish new partnerships with community groups or employers to increase demand.
He’s found that connecting with established groups has been the best way to get shots in arms, such as holding on-site clinics at workplaces or by bringing vaccines to community groups. On Tuesday, Laffin provided 72 Pfizer shots to as many people in the gymnasium at St. Patrick Parish, 1100 Erie St.
Most of those who were vaccinated there were Hispanic and many didn’t speak English fluently, a barrier that has kept some from getting vaccinated through the mainstream channels of government-run sites or hospitals, even if they had bilingual options.
“It’s a community,” Hometown Pharmacy employee Azucena Mora said of St. Patrick; she is a member of the parish and was the one who connected Laffin with the church to set up the gymnasium clinic, of which there have been two so far. “You might feel more comfortable getting vaccinated with people who you’re comfortable with.”
Laffin has been concerned about the lack of equity in the rollout of vaccines so far, which is why he explicitly asked his staff to find more ways to connect with Racine’s Latino community — leading to the St. Patrick clinics.
According to state data, more than 38.2% of white Wisconsinites have received at least one vaccine dose, while only 17.6% of African American and 22.7% of Hispanic Wisconsinites had received one dose, as of Wednesday.
Racine, on all fronts, is behind the state average in terms of vaccine rollout; that’s the norm for urban and very rural areas, which have seen slower vaccination rates than other parts of the state, excluding Dane County where more than 54% of the population has received at least one dose.
City Epidemiologist Cody Pearce said Monday that, while more than 40% of people in the state have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 36.9% of county residents have had at least one dose, only 29.7% of City of Racine residents have had at least one dose and only 19.3% were completely vaccinated.
RACINE — A jury on Wednesday found former Racine Mayor John Dickert not guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct for his participation in a fistfight with a teenager in March 2020.
Following a one-day trial on Tuesday, the jury spent a little more than 4 hours in deliberation Wednesday before coming back with a verdict.
The brawl took place in the parking lot of Piggly Wiggly, 5201 Washington Ave., on March 22, 2020, following some sort of altercation in traffic. While on the stand, Dickert said that he snapped a photo of 19-year-old Christian Reynoso’s vehicle after he noticed the teen was driving dangerously and erratically on Washington Avenue.
Dickert pulled into the grocery store parking lot. Reynoso followed him and a fight ensued.
“Mr. Dickert turned that parking lot into his own personal fight club,” prosecuting attorney John Wagner said during his opening statement. Dickert has been a volunteer youth boxing coach.
RACINE — You do not want to mess with any of the Racine Warriors.
Dickert’s defense, led by Patrick Cafferty, argued that the former mayor was simply defending himself and his passenger, a disabled adult who he was taking shopping at the Piggly Wiggly.
While some of the physical altercation was caught on the grocery store’s surveillance cameras, the beginning of the fight was out of the camera’s view.
While on the stand, Dickert said that Reynoso screamed obscenities and threats at himself and his passenger after following them into the parking lot. Dickert’s passenger got out of the vehicle, and Dickert told him to go inside the store.
Dickert claimed he felt he had to get between Reynoso and his disabled passenger or the teen would kill him. The former mayor admitted that when the teen opened the door of the van he was driving that Dickert tried to push him back inside of the vehicle to keep him away from the disabled man.
Dickert has power of attorney for the man and helps him with activities such as grocery shopping. He added that his passenger was in a particularly fragile state because he’d recently had a portion of his lung removed.
Two witnesses, a mother and teenage daughter, noticed the fight shortly after exiting Rainbow, a clothing store that shares a parking lot with Piggly Wiggly. Although their testimony differed as to whether they first noticed the altercation when they had already gotten into their vehicle or when they first walked up to their car, they agreed that Dickert looked like he was pulling Reynoso from the van.
Cafferty argued that because their memories conflicted, and because they didn’t mention seeing Dickert pull Reynoso from the vehicle to police, they were unreliable witnesses.
Although Dickert and the witnesses disagreed on who threw the first punch, it was clear from witness testimony and security camera video that the two men scuffled and traded blows.
During cross-examination, Wagner repeatedly asked Dickert if he ever called the police during the altercation, implying that if he truly feared for his life, he would have done so. Dickert admitted that he did not. The 911 call came from the teenage witness.
Reynoso also is charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. A status conference in that case is set for June 28.
Dickert was elected mayor in 2009 during a special election, and was re-elected in 2011 and 2015. He resigned in 2017 to become president and CEO of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Dickert was appointed in 2018 by state Revenue Secretary Peter Barca to be the administrator of the Division of State and Local Finance, a position he still holds.
RACINE — With the planned redevelopment of the old Zahn’s Department Store building into the chic Verdant Hotel at 500 Main Street, the city is looking ahead and asking: Is there a way to capitalize on this project?
The answer is: perhaps.
The Joint Review Board last week voted in favor of creating a tax increment district that will funnel potential increased revenue from development in the area to the proposed TID No. 26.
In turn, that funding could then be used to make improvements to the area within the TID.
According to the proposal, “the city projects that rehabilitation of the Zahn’s Department Store building and its conversion to use as a hotel will create $20 million in incremental value by January 1, 2024.”
The city also projects that another $7 million could be created from redevelopment in the area between 2024 and 2033.
However, the TID No. 26 proposal is in the early stages of discussion.
The proposal would have to be approved by the City Council before going back to the Joint Review Board, which would then have a final vote on the project.
The TID earns money in the following way: the city sets a base value when the TID is created. As property values increase, the difference between the base value and increased value will be set aside to be used for development or rehabilitation projects within the TID.
The district will include: the city block bounded by Fifth Street to the north, Main Street and Monument Square to the east, Sixth Street to the south and Wisconsin Avenue to the west.
In total, the district includes 1.2 acres.
However, funds raised from TID No. 26 can be used within a half-mile of the boundary of the TID.
The Main Street Attraction LLC has big plans for the Verdant Hotel on the northwestern corner of Monument Square.
The boutique hotel is expected to have 80 rooms, a banquet/conference hall, a rooftop bar, and an oversized lobby that is expected to be a place the public can gather.
Construction is to commence no later than July 15, and the opening is scheduled for June 2022.
New construction in cities has been especially critical to Wisconsin municipalities over the past decade, since municipalities are no longer allowed to increase their levy limits without “Net New Construction” under a Scott Walker-era law. This Zahn’s rehabilitation, thus, could lead to more revenue for the city since it is likely to be considered “new construction.”
UNION GROVE — Face masks will be optional during summer school at Union Grove Elementary School this year as the district becomes one of the region’s first to plan to relax rules on face coverings intended to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Union Grove school administrators have notified parents that students and staff will not be required to wear face masks during the summer school session, which is offered from June 7 to July 1.
School Board President Linton Skewes said the district sought health expert input before deciding to drop the face mask rule. But the Central Racine County Health Department does not agree with such an approach. Health officials continue to recommend requiring face masks in schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Margaret Gesner, CRCHD health officer, said her department has communicated to school districts in the area, including Union Grove, that face masks are still recommended for students and staff.
“We don’t endorse a no-face-mask or face-mask-optional policy,” Gesner said.
Union Grove Elementary could be one of the first in the region to drop a policy of requiring face masks.
Assistant Principal Tom Hansen, who notified parents that face masks would be optional during summer school, declined to comment on this story.
In Kenosha County, officials at Paris School have relaxed their face mask requirement.
Back in Racine County, Waterford school board members are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss whether to continue a face mask requirement at Waterford High School, following a poll that found the majority of WUHS students want masks to be optional while a majority of teachers want them to remain required.
Union Grove Elementary School, which serves about 800 kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, has a face mask requirement in place during the current semester.
The school at 1745 Milldrum St. typically attracts about 100 students for summer school, which meets four days a week.
Skewes said administrators advised the school board that health officials agreed with relaxing face mask requirements during summer school. With fewer students attending summer school, Skewes said, it will be easier to maintain safe social distancing among students and staff. Plus, many summer activities are held outdoors.
Skewes also said he believes many Union Grove teachers have been vaccinated against the highly contagious COVID-19 virus; in Wisconsin, only those 16 or older can be vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, 37.3% of Racine County residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine according to state data, and teachers have had access to vaccines for weeks longer than the rest of the public.
If there is another surge in COVID-19 cases, the school district can reconsider its face mask policy, Skewes said. But with vaccinations and other factors contributing to lower caseloads, he said, officials feel confident that summer school will be safe.
“I’m thinking we’ll be fine by then — hopefully,” he said.