/ Articles / Evers closes schools for rest of school year, extends lockdown to May 26

Evers closes schools for rest of school year, extends lockdown to May 26

Order shutters nonessential businesses through Memorial Day weekend

April 21, 2020 by Richard Moore

Gov. Tony Evers has ordered the extension of his Safer-at-Home lockdown of the state to last until May 26, in a new executive order signed by the governor last week.

The order closes public and private schools for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, and would keep nonessential businesses closed down for at least another six weeks, unless Evers supersedes the order or it is overturned. Specifically, Evers’s edict would extend the Safer at Home order from April 24 to 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 26.

Some Republicans indicated that a court challenge to Evers’ authority and to that of Andrea Palm, his designated secretary of the state Department of Health Services, could ensue before May 26.

But Evers said the order was necessary and based on science and public health expertise.

“A few weeks ago, we had a pretty grim outlook for what COVID-19 could mean for our state, but because of the efforts of all of you, Safer at Home is working,” Evers said. “That said, we aren’t out of the woods just yet. As I’ve said all along, we are going to rely on the science and public health experts to guide us through this challenge.”

Palm said more testing and more robust public health measures must be in place before lifting the state of emergency.

“These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus,” she said. “If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again.”

Evers and governors in six other states, including Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, also announced they are forming a partnership to reopen the regional economy in the Midwest, saying they would work in close coordination during the states of emergency.

However, Republicans immediately began pushing back on the governor’s plan to lock down the state for more than another month. State Senator and 7th congressional district Republican nominee Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) called Evers’s actions irresponsible.

“Gov. Evers’ unilateral decisions are reckless and are destroying our state,” Tiffany said. “While opening golf courses, he’s closing our rural clinics because they cannot perform routine visits or elective procedures. Furthermore, school districts in areas with limited broadband that were making plans to continue educating in-person while keeping kids healthy now won’t go back until next fall.”

Tiffany said Wisconsinites are smart. 

“Now that we have more data on the coronavirus than ever before, we know how the disease spreads, who the vulnerable populations are, and how we can protect them,” he said. “While we work to keep people safe, at the same time we can be reopening the state and getting the many furloughed Wisconsinites back to work and open up small businesses. We can reopen Wisconsin in a measured way.”

Instead of considering regional differences, Tiffany said, Evers was ceding his authority to Chicago and Detroit so their governors can determine when people in northern Wisconsin can go back to work and to their normal lives.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “We can protect people’s health and return them back to work.”

State Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said Evers’ approach wasn’t sensible when applied to the entire state. 

“To be clear, I fully understand the dangers associated with COVID-19, in particular how it disproportionately affects the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions,” Swearingen said. “I do not believe the current data supports this decision. Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to Wisconsin, I believe we in the Northwoods can protect our loved ones, prevent the spread of the virus, and open up our economy.”

What’s more, Swearingen said, the governor’s decision to extend the order through the Memorial Day holiday will devastate local businesses such as resorts, restaurants, taverns, and many other retail and specialty stores. 

“With little revenue coming into the state, this order will also have long-term consequences for the next state budget and create stress on our schools and government-funded programs,” he said. “The process of opening up our economy could be gradual, and the public will have to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines as well as take common sense precautions, but we can and must get people back to work.”

Assembly speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Assembly majority leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said Evers’ decision was not a popular one.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook since the announcement came out,” Vos and Steineke said. “People are frustrated and so are we. Many citizens can’t get through to the governor’s office and have asked us to be their voice. While everyone shares the goal of protecting public health, the governor’s order goes too far. The Safer at Home order’s main intent was to flatten the curve, which we have successfully done to this point, not devastate our families.”

The lawmakers and GOP leaders said legislative Republicans were considering legal and legislative options to deal with the extension of the order and to get answers to questions their constituents were demanding.

“Today’s briefing gave no actual metrics, no measurable goals, and most importantly, no clear plan to reopen going forward,” they said. “The governor can’t just keep extending the date, waiting for some new knowledge to appear.”

For example, Vos and Steineke said Evers had announced three weeks ago the state needed to buy 10,000 ventilators, yet he placed an order for only 1,500. 

“The prevailing model out of the University of Washington has substantially scaled back predicted impacts repeatedly in recent days,” they said. “The hardest hit city in the nation, New York City, is expected to reopen on May 15. These rapidly changing data points leave in question what indicators the governor is using to continue the extension of an order, which is having far-reaching economic and human impacts in the state.”

State Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the power to close down the entire state was never intended to rest solely in the hands of one person.

“It’s pretty clear that this extends beyond the 60 days of the emergency order by prolonging the provisions of shelter in place,” Fitzgerald said. “The Senate has not been part of this conversation and we are planning to look for legal or legislative relief to truly work with the governor to make these very serious decisions that will have long-term effects on our businesses, our children, and our way of life.”

Ever’s power to extend the Safer At Home order beyond May 11 is ripe for challenge. State law only allows a state of emergency — and the governor’s powers that go with it — to last for 60 days. That would end the state of emergency on May 11, unless the Legislature extends it, but Republicans have so far indicated no willingness to do so. 

The changes

The biggest ramifications of the new order are that nonessential businesses will stay closed, except for certain functions, through the Memorial Day weekend. That will almost certainly add further misery to small businesses and especially to tourist-driven businesses in northern Wisconsin.

Closed schools will also seriously impact families with school-aged children, ramping up child-care burdens for those who still have a job and impeding instruction for those without Internet access.

The order does include some changes, but they are minimal and insignificant for many closed businesses. For example, arts and craft stores may offer expanded curb-side pick-up of materials necessary to make face masks or other personal protective equipment, and non-essential businesses can make deliveries, mailings, and perform curb-side pick-up.

Golf courses may open again, too, though scheduling and paying for tee times must be online or by phone only. Clubhouses and pro shops must remain closed. Aesthetic or optional exterior lawn care or construction will now be permitted.

Essential businesses that remain open to the public must limit the number of people in the store at one time, must provide proper spacing for people waiting to enter, and large stores must offer at least two hours per week of dedicated shopping time for vulnerable populations, the order stated.

Evers also clamped down harder on essential businesses that supply, manufacture, or distribute goods and services to other essential businesses. Now, those businesses can only continue operations necessary to those businesses they supply. The new order also allows local health officials to close local parks and open spaces as they see fit.

Finally, while a prohibition on nonessential travel to second and seasonal homes was not issued, the order strongly encouraged people to stay close to home, not travel to second homes or cabins, and not to travel out-of-state if it is not necessary.

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.

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