'Here & Now' Highlights: Karen Timberlake, Charles Franklin, Deb McGrath

Here's what guests on the Jan. 14, 2022 episode had to say about how hospitals are dealing with the Omicron wave of COVID-19, what polls are finding on the reelection bid by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and the race for Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District seat.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

January 18, 2022

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From left to right, a split screen with Frederica Freyberg and Karen Timberlake seated in different locations

Frederica Freyberg and Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

All 72 counties in Wisconsin are in the “critically high” category for COVID-19 transmission and the Dept. of Health Services continues its push to implement mitigation strategies as hospitals struggle to care for sick patients. Sen. Ron Johnson is running for a third term even though he vowed he would only serve two, and pollster Charles Franklin discusses whether the Republican incumbent is vulnerable as a candidate. Here & Now continues its series of interviews with candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, where voters will choose the next U.S. Representative to replace the outgoing Rep. Ron Kind.

Karen Timberlake
Secretary-designee, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

  • Hundreds of Wisconsin National Guard members start training during the week of Jan. 17 to become nurse aides and certified nursing assistants for deployment to nursing homes.
  • Timberlake: “What we know is we have numbers of patients who are in hospitals today ready to be discharged. They no longer need a hospital level of care, thankfully, but they’re not quite ready to go home. And so some of them may need some care in a post-acute care setting. What we know is that our nursing homes, just like our hospitals, have been experiencing real staffing shortages due to the pandemic. And so by deploying the National Guard in nursing homes, we actually create more capacity in those nursing homes. We allow hospitals to discharge patients who don’t need to be in the hospital any longer, and then we improve hospital capacity for that really critical care that does need to be provided in a hospital setting.”
  • The staffing help is part of broad-based mitigation efforts that include testing, vaccination and masking in the face of escalating COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin that have stretched hospitals to capacity.
  • Timberlake: “The current situation with cases is that we’re at a record high in our 7-day average. We continue to see cases rising at a very, very steep rate. We know that hospitalizations also are at a record level. And so the fact that we have more than 2,200 people today (Jan. 14) in the hospital with covid, including more than 400 people in the ICU, means we have fewer than 5% of hospital beds of any kind across our state that are available. So we know that people continue to need other kinds of medical care and medical treatment, and that is just getting harder and harder for our hospitals to provide. So we should be taking care of ourselves for our own sakes and for the sake of our healthcare system.”


Charles Franklin
Director, Marquette Law School Poll

  • Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is one week into his campaign for a third term, despite vowing in 2016 he would only serve 12 years. A dozen Democratic candidates have lined up to run against Johnson and will face off in an August primary election. Here & Now asked Franklin if he would describe Johnson as vulnerable.
  • Franklin: “I think vulnerable is probably the right way to put it. In late October we asked, ‘Would you vote to reelect Johnson or someone else?’ Just 38% said they’d vote to reelect. But we asked the same question about Gov. Tony Evers and only 40% said they would vote to reelect … Sen. Johnson’s favorability is a little bit more unfavorable than favorable now, and that has come down over the past three years, sort of steadily. So that puts him in a vulnerable position, but a lot hinges on the campaign between now and next November.”
  • Sen. Johnson has maligned COVID-19 vaccines and supported the investigation of therapies not recommended by medical experts. Do Johnson’s positions on COVID-19 play in Wisconsin, which is now overrun with infections and hospitalizations?
  • Franklin: “We’ve asked, ‘How much do you trust Sen. Johnson for information about covid and the coronavirus?’ That’s down in the 30% range that say they trust him. It’s over 50% that say they don’t trust him. Tony Evers is sort of the reverse of that. About 54% or 55% trust him and 30% or 40% don’t trust him. So Sen. Johnson’s positions on that play well with Republican voters, and especially Republican voters who are themselves skeptical of the vaccine. But even among Republicans who have been vaccinated and are concerned about the coronavirus, Sen. Johnson’s favorabilities are lower among that group of Republicans.”


Deb McGrath
Democratic candidate for 3rd Congressional District

  • McGrath comes to her candidacy after a career serving as a U.S. Army officer and CIA agent. Her campaign materials cite her “oath to defend our country,” and her interest in fighting for issues like voting and basic rights. The declared Republican candidate in the campaign, Derrick Van Orden, is a former Navy SEAL and also took an oath to the nation.
  • McGrath: “I work with a handshake instead of a fist. I know how to work with people and listen to them to solve problems. When I look at this great country, I know that when we work together, we will accomplish great things. I am no stranger to being the first in any challenge. For instance, I was the only woman of my Airborne training class, and the sergeants would have loved to have made me quit. Instead, I led by example. I never gave up and I was the first one out of the plane. That is the attitude that I bring to this race.”


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