‘We’re The Wild West’: WI Counties Issue Patchwork Of COVID Orders After Court Decision

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers speaks at the Ward 4 building in Milwaukee on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Democrats in Wisconsin girded for a fight and encouraged voters to speak out as Republicans prepared to move ahead quickly this week with a highly unusual and sweeping lame-duck session to pass a series of proposals that would weaken both Democratic Gov.-elect Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. (Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Gov. Tony Evers (Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)
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May 14, 2020 11:21 a.m.

Hours after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) extended stay-at-home order Wednesday, the state’s biggest counties hastily cobbled together their own measures to fill the sudden void. 

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett immediately issued a statement that the city’s stay-at-home order is still in effect, with no expiration date.

Elsewhere in Milwaukee County, the state’s biggest and home to nearly one million people, the 18 suburban municipalities and their 10 public health officials signed an order outlining how local businesses can proceed. Bars and restaurants are still only available for takeout, and other businesses like barbershops must maintain social distancing efforts.

The officials called the situation “fluid” and said future steps would be determined by the data on cases coming out of the county.

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Saying they were “disappointed” in the ruling, officials in Dane County, home to Madison, released their own stay-at-home order that “incorporates the elements” of the former state-wide one, effective immediately. It allows for full worship services, with proper social distancing.

“According to the criteria Public Health Madison & Dane County has identified using the Badger Bounce Back scorecard our county data looks promising, but it is critical to continue following Safer at Home right now to keep Dane County residents healthy and keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed,” they said. The order will be in effect until May 26.

And in Brown County, home to Green Bay, public health officer Anna Destree fired off an order that county residents must follow the guidelines enshrined in the former state stay-at-home order until May 20.

Still, per an extremely grave Gov. Tony Evers (D), these emergency measures may not be enough. During an interview he gave late Wednesday, soon after the ruling, Evers painted a grim picture of the likelihood that any statewide measure could be put into place quickly.

“Unfortunately, in this one fell swoop, four judges who didn’t really care about what the statutes talk about have thrown our state into chaos,” he told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi of the 4-3 Supreme Court decision. Four of the court’s conservative justices found that Evers could not extend the original stay-at-home order without approval from the legislature. One of the conservative justices, Brian Hagedorn, sided with the liberals. 

“We’re the wild west, Ali,” Evers said. “There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin.” 

He said that since his authority has been “taken away,” he’ll meet with the Republican-led legislature Thursday to figure out next steps. However, he said, it’s clear that they don’t have any kind of plan and will want to craft an administrative rule. 

“An administrative rule in the state of Wisconsin takes at least — at least two weeks, at least,” he said. “And we’ve already started tonight where different counties are saying ‘bring it on,’ we have other counties saying ‘no, we don’t want this to happen.’ So suddenly it’s a 72-county affair.”

Some, both in and outside the state, found the sudden lack of statewide COVID-19 mitigation orders to be cause for celebration. 

As soon as the order came down, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the state’s trade association for the alcohol retailer segment of the hospitality industry, blasted out a notice on its Facebook page.

“The Supreme Court Order is effective immediately,” it said. “There is no stay included in the decision. It is legal to open your business today.”

Some bars took heed. 

Nick’s Bar in Plattesville, southwest of Madison, posted a picture of its packed bar less than an hour after the ruling came down: 

President Donald Trump cheered the decision on his favorite medium.

So far, Wisconsin has had 10,902 cases and 421 deaths, per the state health department.

“We’re just leaving it open, we’re going to have more cases, we’re going to have more deaths, and it’s a sad occasion for the state,” Evers said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”

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