Following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Governor Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order Wednesday, several local jurisdictions — including Dane, Rock and Brown Counties, and the cities of Milwaukee and Racine — issued orders of their own to keep nonessential businesses closed and restrict gatherings.
Public Health Madison Dane County essentially adopted the text of the state’s Safer at Home order — technically issued by Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm — as a local order to last until May 26.
“We have seen that Safer at Home is working in Dane County and is slowing the spread of COVID-19 continuing public health orders at a local level which will ensure that we don’t go backwards on the progress that we have made like everyone else,” Public Health Madison Dane County director Janel Heinrich said at a press conference Wednesday evening. “We are eager to reopen businesses and work towards normalcy, but we need to do this slowly and based on data.”
“Here in Madison, we believe in science and we will be guided by data,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. “We will reopen, but we will do that in a phased way that protects public health while restarting our economy.”
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said about 90,000 people commute into Dane County every day, which is why a county-by-county approach won’t work.
“We have to take at least a regional approach,” he said.
The City of Racine also adopted the text of the state’s Safer at Home order locally.
“I know these are very difficult and highly unusual times, but Public Health’s responsibility is to mediate and maintain the safety and welfare of our residents,” said City of Racine Public Health Administrator DottieKay Bowersox. “I am therefore adopting the provisions of Safer At Home locally and ordering that it be extended until May 26th. Before that date, additional guidance will be released for how we can safely move forward.”
Racine County has become a hotspot for coronavirus infection in recent weeks. As of Wednesday afternoon, 785 people in the county had been confirmed to be infected with coronavirus — a rate of 402 per 100,000 residents, the fourth highest rate in the state. Seventeen people have died there.
Rock County and Brown County also adopted the Safer at Home order locally. Brown County has by far the highest infection rate in the state, with 763 infections per 100,000 residents, following a major outbreak over the past two weeks.
The City of Milwaukee didn’t need to issue a new order, as it had issued a similar order before the state did, and that issue remains in place.
“That order remains in effect, including all provisions on public gatherings, restaurants, and bar operations,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement.
Some local leaders went beyond announcing new orders to take swipes at the politics of overturning the state’s order.
“The actions of the Supreme court today, as well as the folks who brought this case against the governor, are beyond irresponsible,” Parisi said. “Pretending this virus doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. They have opened up the door without a plan, throwing the state into chaos that mimics what we’ve been seeing on the federal level.”
Parisi said some populations are more vulnerable than others, including the elderly, people with underlying health issues, and people of color.
“We have seen unacceptable rates of infection and death among communities of color,” he said. “The death rate and infection rate among African Americans is unacceptable and what we’re saying to all these people now, what the court just said to all of these people is, ‘well, you’re on your own.’ This is what happens when you insert politics into public health and this isn’t just your normal partisan fight over the size of government or taxes or certain policy. This is life and death.”
“Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court and their Republican allies in the legislature have put politics before the health and lives of Wisconsin residents,” Racine Mayor Cory Mason said in a statement. “This decision seems rooted more in partisan politics than findings of law. It certainly ignores science and what thousands of medical professionals have been saying about the necessary steps we all need to take to combat the spread of coronavirus, flatten the curve, and save the lives of our residents. This reckless decision will almost certainly mean that the pandemic lasts longer and the health consequences will be even more severe, particularly in places like Racine which is seeing a spike in cases and savage disparities among communities of color. I urge City residents to continue to take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your families, and the community.”
We will update this story with additional cities and counties that issue local orders.