GOP Leaders Who Killed 'Safe-At-Home' Order Offer No Alternative Plan

Top Republican lawmakers indicate they are OK with county-by-county approach to COVID-19 pandemic

A state with individual counties and cities passing their own guidelines to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus appears to be an appropriate response to fighting a pandemic, at least according to the Republican lawmakers who filed the lawsuit to end the state’s safer-at-home order.

Gov. Tony Evers met by phone Thursday morning, a day after the state Supreme Court ruled his administration acted beyond its powers in issuing the statewide order, with Assembly Leader Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. 

The two Republicans said one reason they filed the suit was to “have a seat at the table” to create a replacement order. It now seems they are fine with the state’s 72 counties and individual communities deciding for themselves when businesses should reopen and whether restrictions should be placed on large gatherings.

Evers was asked on a call with reporters Thursday afternoon to comment on a statement made by Vos in which he said it may be OK to not have a statewide plan and to not enact an emergency rule, but rather to leave it up to local governments to decide their own local policies. 

Evers said he was “disappointed but not surprised.”

“I thought both leaders felt very comfortable with the idea and are unconcerned with what I believe will be massive confusion that will exist without a statewide approach,” said Evers in reference to Vos and Fitgerald. “Apparently they believe different rules are OK. I can’t imagine another state that is in this predicament, where essentially mile by mile there will be different rules all across the state of Wisconsin.”

Evers said on May 1 he received a letter from Vos and Republican lawmakers. They indicated they were interested in a gradual reopening of the state. 

“Apparently between that time and the Supreme Court’s decision they decided that is not what they want to do,” Evers said. “I think it is a mistake but the court decided, and they are the court of the land.”

By Thursday morning, a patchwork of standards already was starting to pop up with more populated areas like Dane, Racine and Milwaukee counties maintaining the safer-at-home order until May 26, the date the order would have expired had the Supreme Court not blocked it. 

Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the state Department of Health Services, said she, like the governor, finds the court’s decision disappointing.

She said with the order no longer in place, her agency and the state will continue to focus on increasing the availability of tests to the public, will continue the effort to hire 1,000 contact tracers and will continue to procure protective equipment such as surgical and N95 masks to protect frontline workers.

She said securing PPE continues to be a struggle for Wisconsin and other states across the country. 

“The virus and the outbreak are the same today as they were yesterday,” Palm said. “It is why we are asking Wisconsinites to stick with us, to continue to stay safer at home and continue to do the important work they have been doing to give us the space and time to step up the infrastructure to stop the spread of this virus.”