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Capital City Sunday: Response to police shootings, vaccine hesitancy expert supports Johnson & Johnson pause

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Videos capturing two shootings in which police shot and killed someone sparked protests throughout the Midwest.

Former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter after killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright with a single shot.

Her body camera video showed Potter pointing her gun at Wright for at least five seconds warning she was about to tase him, indicating she somehow mistook the gun for a Taser; something that has happened more than a dozen times in the U.S. in recent years.

In Chicago, demostrators went to the streets after the city released body camera video showing an officer shoot and kill 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

The officer was responding to a shots fired call and the video showed Toledo running away down an alley while carrying a handgun. The officer commands the boy to drop the weapon; Adam turns, tosses the weapon, and is shot all within about a two-second timeframe.

Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) took part in large protests in and around Milwaukee last year following the death of George Floyd under the knee of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, whose trial is expected to end next week, and the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake.

"Officers can make different decisions than the ones they are making in these split-second situations," Bowen said.

When pressed about what an officer could reasonably expected to do in instances where an armed person - the cop didn't know Toledo was a kid in that moment - is turning toward them while still holding the gun, Bowen acknowledged officers will sometimes have no choice but added there are far too many cases of police bypassing other, non-lethal options.

"Yes, you're going to have a number of situations where an officer had to use force and you want to make sure, especially in those situations, officers are making decisions that are in the best interests of the community they're serving," Bowen said.

While Bowen would not go along with the idea police need to be "abolished" as leftist activists have started to demand, he said communities are spending too much money on their police departments and could instead direct funding toward community-based violence prevention efforts and professionals better equipped to respond to people in distress but aren't posing any kind of threat.

"There's no one out there that doesn't want every person to be able to make it home at night," Bowen said. "Whether you're an officer or whether you're a citizen."

Why vaccine pause is "the right call"

On Wednesday, a federal review by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices ended with a recommendation to continue the pause while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates the potential link between vaccinations and blood clotting. The committee will meet again next Friday, April 23.

DHS is advising anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to monitor for a number of symptoms for up to three weeks after their vaccine. They include: severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.

Malia Jones, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UW-Madison, has specialized her research on vaccine hesitancy. Jones said while there's legitimate reason to worry the pause will increase skepticism of all vaccines, she believes federal officials still made the wise decision.

"I do think they made the right call," Jones said. "This is the typical procedure when something like this arises and one of the things to know here is we do see very rare side effects from vaccines. This is not something totally out of left field."

Jones said while there could be an impact on vaccine hesitancy, it might be hard to detect in the short-term because, for the most part, vaccinators are still able to find people seeking the doses they have.

"We are still at a point where the demand for vaccines exceeds the supply," Jones said. "So, we're still seeing people mostly complaining they can't get an appointment, they have to drive a really long way to get an appointment, which says demand is still out there."

According to the DHS COVID-19 dashboard, 38.5 percent of eligible Wisconsinites have received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines while 25.8 percent had completed the vaccine series, including those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version.

More than 161,000 residents have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Jones said it's worth considering the pause as an indicator safeguards are in place for the vaccine rollout. With six reported cases of severe blood clots out of nearly seven million vaccinations nationwide, Jones said it may have been extremely unlikely for the side effects to surface during initial trials.

"Vaccines, and all other drugs, do cause very serious and very rare side effects and those may not have emerged in a clinical trial with 30,000 people if it's a side effect that happens one in a million," she said.

Jones said surveys to this point indicate hesitancy is highest among rural communities that tend to lean conservative. She was hopeful the pause would eventually convince people officials are closely monitoring the vaccines' performance and were willing to act quickly at the first sign of possible trouble.

"My hope is the wait-and-see folks will ultimately find themselves reassured that there's been a thorough investigation of how common this particular side effect really is; I'm confident it'll end up being extremely uncommon," Jones said. "Quite literally, your chances of getting struck by lightning in Wisconsin are higher than having one of these rare blood clots."

UI system upgrade update

Officials at the Department of Workforce Development said this week they're confident they will clear the list of claims waiting for a decision before the pandemic is over.

Currently, more than 30,000 claims have yet to be resolved. Nearly 6,500 cases have been scheduled for initial adjudication. Nearly 8,000 more have yet to be scheduled for review.

Beyond that, more than 14,000 people have appealed the initial ruling for their claims and are waiting for that appeal to be scheduled. More than 3,000 appeals have been scheduled for review.

"After the great recession of 2008, the agency took two years to get through their backlog of appeals," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. "We will be through our appeals before the pandemic is even over."

Pechacek says her source of confidence is the agency more than tripling the number of administrative judges reviewing the appeals; DWD has gone from 17 to 63 judges with Pechacek cautioning it takes time to get those judges fully prepared to handle cases.

"It's not like we can call a staffing agency and say 'please send us judges,'" she said.

Pechacek said claims were moving through the system more efficiently on the front end thanks to an upgraded online portal. The big difference is it allows people to submit necessary documents online; previously, claimants had to submit documents either via fax or by mail.

"Now folks can upload documents right from their phone, right from their laptop," Pechacek said. "They can take a photo, so we're excited about that."

As for the much larger project of overhauling the agency's outdated claims processing technology, Pechacek said DWD is undertaking that job one step at a time.

She said the agency was working with two consultant groups using $2.4 million in federal grant money to find partners who can best perform each branch of the system overhaul.

While Governor Evers put nearly $80 million in his proposed two-year budget to perform the job, lawmakers on the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee balked at the idea.

Lawmakers instead told DWD to go get bids for projects and return to the committee seeking funding once contractors submitted their bits. Pechacek said that process is now well underway.

"We've actually already issued now our first of many RFPs so we're gonna be modernizing incrementally," she said. "The first RFP we've issued is to fully upgrade our call center."

Pechacek said DWD was seeking to transition its call center to a cloud-based operation. She said the move would allow the call center to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Currently, DWD officials have said the call center has to close at night because otherwise it would interfere with the outdating processing system's handling of that day's claims, which happens overnight.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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