Court's Order Sets Stage For Patchwork Of COVID-19 Precautions Across Wisconsin

May 15, 2020

Wisconsin now has a patchwork of local restrictions on businesses and gatherings after Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order was thrown out by the state Supreme Court late Wednesday.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices sided with Republican lawmakers and said Evers’ Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm did not have the authority to extend the safer-at-home rules until May 26. The court lifted the restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Republican legislators have convinced four of our supreme court justices to throw our state into chaos,” said Evers during a press conference Thursday.

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In the absence of a statewide mandate, some cities and counties have put their own local restrictions in place, others have not.

“Instead of a comprehensive statewide approach to keep people safe, we’re seeing municipalities around the state chart their own course,” Evers said. “That means you may have to follow a different set of rules than your neighbors across the street. And if you own businesses in multiple locations, things are going to get very confusing very fast.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the Republicans who took Evers’ order to court, issued a statement saying they trust businesses to reopen in a safe manner.

Some business leaders have been asking for a faster reopening of the economy in recent weeks. Steve Baas, who's with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said Thursday that people were eventually going to have to learn how to responsibly get back to work.

“We were going to have the training wheels taken off of government mandates and government guidelines,” Baas said. “And people were going to have to step into the brave new world of operating responsibly on their own. So we’ve entered a new era of responsible freedom.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has safety guidelines that it’s urging businesses to follow. But photos of some bars that opened Wednesday showed crowded taprooms and limited mask-wearing. Evers commented on those photos during his press conference.

“There’s very few certainties in this world of COVID-19, but this one is certain: The more people you put in a small space, the greater the chance are that you’re going to get a disease,” Evers said. “So if businesses don’t do that, it’s gonna be a problem.”

Evers is working to implement new emergency rules to curb the spread of the virus. But those rules need to go through Republican lawmakers. Vos and Fitzgerald indicated in their statement that they might not want to implement emergency rules unless there is a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Evers and Palm are still encouraging Wisconsinites to abide by the safer-at-home guidelines. But for now, restrictions will depend on where you live.

Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee acted quickly to issue directives similar to the former statewide order. 

“We have seen what has happened in other parts of this country, in other parts of this world where you have had a rush to reopen things. And what you ended up with was more death and more suffering,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett during a news briefing Thursday. “And that is exactly what we want to avoid.”

Milwaukee and nearby suburbs are loosening some restrictions though. Salons, barbershops, and spas are allowed to reopen with limitations.

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