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COVID-19 vaccination rates below 55% among Beloit first responders

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues across the country, first responders appear to be refusing the immunization at a higher rates in Beloit compared to Janesville, according to data obtained by the Beloit Daily News.

In the Beloit Police Department, 46 of the department’s 94 employees (48.9%) have chosen to be vaccinated. Four remaining police department staff members want the vaccine and will receive it later, which would bring the department’s overall vaccination rate to 53%.

Interim Police Chief Thomas Stigler said department employees declined the vaccine because they considered themselves to not be at high risk in terms of health conditions. Others declined initially being vaccinated to seek out more information regarding the vaccine, he said.

“Though we have not experienced significant staffing issues in the past 10 months, the potential is still here so I would like to see it at 100%,” Stigler said. “The higher the vaccination rate, the sooner we will get back to normal.”

At the Beloit Fire Department, 24 of the department’s 57 employees (42.1%) have been vaccinated and no remaining staff want the vaccine, said Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard.

Beloit Fire Chief Daniel Pease said the fire department has had “zero duty-related COVID-19 illnesses because we have implemented best practices in prevention.”

“Our firefighters were provided the right to choose what method of protection is best for them,” Pease said. “We have taken and will continue to take the necessary precautions to keep individuals safe.”

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said she would like to see a higher rate of vaccine participation among city employees, but said she felt the low rate of vaccination among first responders was comparable to other agencies.

“As individuals continue to research their health decisions, we hope that more will choose to become vaccinated so that we can safely achieve herd immunity and loosen social distancing measures,” Luther said. “I personally am confident in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine after reviewing the research studies. I look forward to being vaccinated when it is my turn.”

In Janesville, the police department reports 77 of 116 staff (66.3%) have received the vaccine as 15 await immunization, which would bring the department’s total to 92 of 116 staff vaccinated (79.3%), Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan reported.

Sheridan said he did not know what to expect heading into the vaccination rollout for first responders.

“We have tried to provide as much information as possible to our employees throughout the pandemic, including passing along the latest information about the vaccine, so they could make informed decisions,” Sheridan said. “Recently, we have seen some employees who originally chose not to get the vaccine change their mind and elect to receive it. Like everyone, we are hoping this is the beginning of the end to this pandemic.”

At the fire department, Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes reported 75 of the department’s 93 staff have received the vaccine (80.6%).

Rhodes said he expected the department’s vaccination rate to be around 50%, noting that he was “pleased” with the higher figures.

“It is comforting to see the vaccine because my personnel are on the front line, day in and day out,” Rhodes said. “I am very proud of the dedication and the courage the JFD team has displayed during the pandemic. They are professionals and they have stood firm in the face of the pandemic. They are amazing. I would encourage everyone to get the vaccine as it becomes available.”

A Pew Research center poll shows that 60% of Americans are confident they would get the vaccine as two-in-10 say they are “pretty certain” they will not seek the vaccine even when there’s more information available, the study said.

The number of those polled who said they would not get the vaccine increases sharply when being considered among the first to receive the vaccine, the poll found.

“While public intent to get a vaccine and confidence in the vaccine development process are up, there’s considerable wariness about being among the first to get a vaccine: 62% of the public says they would be uncomfortable doing this. Just 37% would be comfortable,” write Pew Research Center authors Cary Funk and Alec Tyson.

A total of 8,872 first-doses and 2,397 second-doses of vaccine have been administered in Rock County as of Tuesday, data from the Rock County Public Health Department shows.

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Lincoln Academy construction on schedule

BELOIT — Construction on The Lincoln Academy is about 60% complete, with opening on schedule for July 2021.

With technical education lab spaces, breakout rooms and visible mechanical and electrical systems, the school has many features to foster teachable moments and hands-on learning.

“We were able to build a state-of-the-art facility in which every decision we make is focused on the best interests of the scholar,” said CEO Kristi Cole.

In a tour on Monday, Cole and Corporate Contractors Inc. (CCI) Project Manager Aaron Combs shared some of the highlights of construction going on within the 113,000-square-foot facility.

Combs said crews will be done with framing on Saturday and are finishing drywall and painting on several floors.

The Lincoln Academy in Beloit is a K4 to grade 12 independent charter school opening in fall of 2021 on the Eclipse Campus at 608 Henry Ave. It will be a public school authorized through the University of Wisconsin System and has finalized contract negotiations with the University of Wisconsin Office of Educational Opportunity. Tuition will be free to families, and enrollment is open to any student who is a Wisconsin resident beginning Feb. 1. In its first year the school will have 4K to second grades and sixth through ninth grades, for a total of 400 students in the first year. Each year the school will add two additional grade levels and four additional classes, or 100 students a year until it reaches 700.

The first floor for K4 through fourth graders will be home to classrooms and a full-sized gym which meets NCAA requirements and the ability to seat 750 people in the bleachers. The gym will be able to be divided into physical education and cafeteria space. The kitchen area, locker rooms and physical education teacher office will be located east of the gym. The first floor also will be home to a culinary classroom.

“We can teach culinary arts students and support scholars with special needs who would benefit from learning life skills,” Cole said.

The kitchen also features a camera which points to the prep table so an instructor could show students how to prepare food during culinary instruction.

In between every two classrooms are smaller breakout rooms for individual instruction for enrichment and intervention. There is also an art room, and two-story music room with a wood beam ceiling.

The second floor for fifth through eighth graders will feature classrooms as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classrooms including a digital lab, computer science room, engineering/robotics lab and a fab lab. There also will be a Chromebook repair station known as the Chrome Depot as well as the makerspace room.

“The makerspace room will feature CNC machines, a vinyl cutter, 3D printers and other materials and supplies for students to invent, create and see their imagination come to reality,” Cole said.

The two-story library will feature some quiet study stalls and counter seating in the upper level for older students. Students will be able to view plants outside the windows in a green area.

“The library will have a wide collection of reading materials as well as technology available for scholar use. We are also going to have a countertop where scholars can do research, comfortable seating and reading nooks,” Cole said.

On both the second and third floors, there will be lockers and comfortable seating outside of each classroom. Natural sunlight will come in through large windows throughout the building.

On the third floor for high schoolers will be classrooms including an EMT room with an ambulance simulation where students can earn certification as an EMT. The mechanical room will be exposed and converted into teachable space where students can learn HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems. There will also be a biomedical science room on the upper level and a media production area.

The lower level will feature four labs including one for agriculture, applied arts, construction and welding.

Combs said there is 15,000 square feet of future building space available on the site. Outside, on the south side of the building, will be an outdoor amphitheater and playground area.

Combs said the project typically has 93 workers on site daily and materials used in construction are locally sourced.

The application period will be available online on Feb. 1 at TheLincolnAcademyBeloit.com. If more applications are received than there are seats available for each grade level, a public lottery will be held.

Shown above is a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter. Fairbanks Morse, which has a manufacturing facility in Beloit, has been awarded a six-year contract worth about $53 million, to provide services for the U.S. Coast Guard and its vessels.

Beloit School District to reopen athletics

BELOIT — The Beloit School District Board of Education voted unanimously to reopen athletic and extracurricular activities at its Tuesday evening meeting.

Sports will begin opening up Feb. 1 with some open gyms, especially for girl swimmers who officially begin their season on Feb. 8.

Prior to the vote, Athletic Director Joel Beard presented the district’s athletic reopening plan, which will include social distancing, face coverings, cleaning and sanitizing and symptom screening.

There will be no locker room usage during practices.

All practices will be 90 minutes with 30 minutes to transition to the next group. All equipment used will be cleaned after practice and weight room equipment will be cleaned in between usage.

Before games, chairs will be socially distanced on the sidelines and will remain that way throughout the event.

Players will have assigned seats in the gym. Score table chairs will be socially distanced with limited seating and personnel. Game balls will be sanitized and rotated in and out at the officials discretion.

No spectators will be allowed at Beloit Memorial High School other than those individuals deemed essential per Big 8 and high school guidelines.

All games will be streamed live on the Beloit Athletics YouTube Channel.

Concessions will be closed and athletes will bring their own water bottles and towels. Visiting teams will be escorted to and from the front entry where doors will be propped open to their bus. Coaches will be required to keep a checklist of everyone in attendance on game day. Buses will have a limit of 24 passengers.

Beloit Memorial High School Director of Bands Chris Behrens said there are plans for distancing instrument players. The district would implement various covers for instruments and a safe mask with a slit would be used to prevent the spread of aerosols. Choir students would wear special masks designed for singers.

At Tuesday’s meeting the board also voted to elect Clerk John Wong as its vice president. There were four votes for Wong, and two for board member Amiee Leavy. The board then voted unanimously for board member Maria Delgado to serve as clerk. Former President Kyle Larsen resigned at an earlier meeting and former Vice President Megan Miller has stepped into the role of president.