Fifth death reported in Wis.; Evers orders nonessential Wisconsin businesses closed

Wisconsin Legislature New Session
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, seen here at a 2018 news conference, is ordering the closure of all nonessential businesses starting Tuesday, and urging people to stay at home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Steve Apps | Wisconsin State Journal via AP 2018

Updated: 5:36 p.m.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that he will order the closure of all nonessential businesses starting Tuesday and he urged people to stay at home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has killed five people in the state and infected more than 400.

Also on Monday, 33-year-old state Rep. David Bowen, of Milwaukee, said he tested positive for the virus and was recovering at home. He was the first member of the Legislature to say they had tested positive.

The order from Evers, which he is calling “safer at home,” follows his orders to close the state's K-12 schools and various businesses, including bars, restaurants and hair salons. He also limited gatherings to no more than 10 people, but he said Friday that he didn't think a shelter in place order would be necessary.

Republican legislative leaders, who had earlier praised Evers for not closing more businesses, said the “safer at home” order was causing “mass amounts of confusion," uncertainty and anxiety. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said there needs to be a better understanding of why decisions are being made because of the impact on the economy, businesses and residents of the state.

Evers said many unanswered questions about the order, including the full list of exemptions and how long it would be in place, would be released on Tuesday.

“We have in the past and will continue to ask people to stay at home, stay at home, stay at home," Evers said. The additional closings, and exhortations for people not to leave home, came about because state health experts told him “we're not getting to the point we wanted to be,” Evers said.

He said he made the decision in consultation with public health experts, business leaders and local elected officials. Republican legislative leaders said they were not consulted and that the decision came as a surprise.

The tighter restriction mirrors what other places have done, including neighboring Illinois, to try and force people not to leave their homes or interact with others unless absolutely necessary.

Those who provide essential care and services, such as doctors, nurses and other in the health care industry, grocers and family caregivers, will be granted an exemption, Evers said. But everyone else should limit their travel to essential needs like getting groceries and medication and going to the doctor and stay 6 feet apart from anyone else, he said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The goal is to slow the spread of the disease so there isn’t a surge in patients that overwhelms hospitals and health care workers.

A fifth death, and the third in Milwaukee County, was confirmed Monday. The number of total cases increased from 381 to 416 in 30 counties.

The mayor of Superior, in northwestern Wisconsin just across the border from Duluth, Minnesota, urged people not to go shopping on Monday because people who recently went to local grocery stores and other businesses were later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Also on Monday, the state Department of Corrections said a second worker in a Wisconsin prison tested positive for the virus. The latest positive test was at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage. It comes after a doctor at the Waupun Correctional Institution tested positive last month. Both prisons are maximum security.

No prisoners have tested positive, the department said Monday. Inmate advocacy groups, fearful of an outbreak of the virus behind bars, have been urging Evers to make a series of sweeping changes to protect inmates, including letter older ones go free.

Evers on Saturday froze new admissions to the state prisons, saying inmates will have to continue to be housed in county jail cells.

In other developments, the University of Wisconsin-Madison canceled its planned graduation ceremonies that were to take place May 8 and May 9 and will instead offer a “virtual ceremony."

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank called the decision “heartbreaking” but said there are plans to hold an in-person event at a later date following the public health crisis. About 7,000 undergraduate degrees are typically handed out at the May graduation ceremony that attracts about 40,000 people.

Also, all jury trials in Wisconsin have been postponed until at least the end of May and in-person court proceedings have been suspending statewide through at least the end of April.

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