Eight days before the statewide Safer at Home order was set to expire, Gov. Tony Evers extended the order to May 26.
The extended order by state Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm includes the closing of all public and private schools the rest of the school year, including sports and other extracurricular activities.
The new executive order was announced on a day where reported COVID-19 diagnoses in Wisconsin increased 4.1 percent from Wednesday, hospitalizations increased by 20 from yesterday, and 15 more COVID-19 deaths were reported in the state, including Southwest Wisconsin’s second COVID-19 death, in Richland County.
The order continues to ban “all public and private gatherings of any number of people that are not part of a single household or living unit.”
The order limits retail stores to customers and employees totaling one-fourth of the store’s maximum capacity, and stores of 50,000 square feet or larger to four people per 1,000 square feet of space. It also mandates that larger stores offer at least two hours per week of “dedicated shopping for vulnerable populations,” including people older than 60, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
It also requires businesses to "adopt policies to prevent workers exposed to COVID-19 or symptomatic workers from coming to work."
The order allows closing of “public parks and open space” in cases of social distancing requirements not being met, or vandalism or “disturbing the peace.”
The order keeps public libraries closed, though curbside pickup of library items will be allowed.
The order keeps closed “places of public amusement and activity,” except that on April 24 golf courses will be able to open with restrictions including closing of pro shops, social distancing requirements, and only online or advance reservations. Golf carts will be banned, and driving ranges and miniature golf courses will remain closed.
The order keeps the previous limit for child care facilities to 50 students and 10 staff, with an additional provision that child care be prioritized first for the children of health care workers, followed by children of workers in “other vital areas.”
The order allows, as of April 24, some "non-essential businesses" to make deliveries, mailings and curbside pickup, including arts and crafts stores only to make Personal Protective Equipment. It also allows, as of April 24, “aesthetic or optional exterior work,” including lawn care, if done in an open space by one person.
Southwest Wisconsin's state legislators were not in agreement with the extension.
“I have severe concerns about Gov. Evers’ decision to extend his 'Safer at Home' order until May 26," said Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville). "Over the past weeks, businesses have been forced to close and hundreds of thousands of employees laid off or furloughed. On Monday, the Department of Health Services announced that Wisconsin saw the lowest daily increase in new cases in weeks. These results show that we are headed in the right direction, but our economy has been forced to a screeching halt. I have heard from business owners and farmers in my district who are losing everything that they have worked for their entire life. They cannot endure this shutdown much longer. I am concerned about my businesses and farmers being able to survive.
"I will do everything I can to slowly reopen Wisconsin’s economy while keeping important health precautions in place.”
“Certainly, I was not expecting the governor to extend his ‘Safer at Home’ order until May 26,” said Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City). “Like everyone else, I was watching the numbers, thinking that they were looking pretty good and trending in the right direction. It was my hope that the governor was going to present a detailed plan to slowly and intelligently reopen Wisconsin’s economy, in a way that everyone felt comfortable and safe with.
“This is clearly a disappointment for a lot of Southwest Wisconsin employers and citizens. Keeping Wisconsin’s economy locked down until May 26 doesn’t seem practical because of the real-world negative impact it is having on our communities and citizens’ mental health.”
“Extending the ‘Safer At Home’ Executive Order today for more than a month may be devastating to the people of our state,” said Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green). “I am worried about our health and well-being, as well as the stability of our communities, our businesses and the people I consider neighbors and friends.
“Our hospitals, businesses of every size and citizens need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day, I hear from hospital leaders, business owners, farmers and everyday people in our communities who are very worried that they will not be able to financially recover if this goes on much longer. They are worried about the mental health of their neighbors and friends. They are afraid of the long-term consequences of waiting because of fear.”
Marklein said the state “needs to plan for the ‘exit strategy’ from this lock down. Several of my colleagues and I think there is a reasonable way to move forward and get our economy going again while protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens. We are not going to be able to flip a switch, so we must be working on this now.”
The Chicago Tribune reported that the governors of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky will work together on plans to reopen their state's economies and lifting stay-at-home restrictions.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said in a statement opening a news conference Thursday afternoon that “‘Safer at Home’ is working,” with “far fewer cases of hospitalization” than originally projected.
“Nobody wants to reopen the state as much as we do,” said Barnes. “This is not a fun option; this is a necessary option.”
The news conference did not take questions from reporters.
The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump told governors that states could begin opening up before Trump’s goal of May 1.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” the Times reported Trump told governors in a telephone call. “You’re going to be calling the shots. We’ll be standing right alongside of you, and we’re going to get our country open and get it working. People want to get working.”