The striking down of statewide safer-at-home restrictions leaves Wisconsin with a patchwork of local rules
The striking down of statewide safer-at-home restrictions leaves Wisconsin with a patchwork of local rules. (Image by Shutterstock)

Wisconsin is left with a patchwork of standards throughout all 72 counties.

Less than a day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the statewide stay-home order in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic while allowing no grace period for a replacement, cities and counties around the state are issuing their own orders to keep residents safe.

Most cities counties have so far elected to do nothing to replace the order, but not all.

Some rescinded the orders soon after issuing them, citing guidance from the Wisconsin Counties Association that said “it is unclear” that a local health order would survive a legal challenge.

Attorney General Josh Kaul, in an opinion published Friday, said the local orders were legal, in part because the Supreme Court did not directly address the statute that gives local health departments shutdown authority.

“Nothing in the supreme court’s decision even arguably limits
other measures directed by a local authority,” Kaul wrote.

These local governments have kept orders going:

Brown County: Public Health Officer Anna Destree extended the state order as written until May 20, and increased the maximum fine for violating the order from $250 to $500. She lamented that “state officials and the Legislature cannot work together to develop a statewide approach to suppress COVID-19.”

However, the county rescinded its order on Friday after other local health departments began to do so as well. Destree told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that the county is exploring other options, but did not elaborate.

Brown County has the most highly concentrated outbreak in the state, with 762.9 cases per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, compared to 441.7 cases per 100,000 residents in Milwaukee County.

Massive, rapidly moving outbreaks in food processing plants throughout the county have driven a meteoric rise in cases to more than 2,000.

City of Racine: The city’s Health Department, which also covers the two small suburban villages of Elmwood Park and Wind Point, extended the state’s order through May 26, the original end date. The only change is that religious institutions will be allowed to operate under the essential business guidelines put forth in the governor’s original order.

Racine has one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the country, and cases within the city’s jurisdiction surpassed 500 on Wednesday. Mayor Cory Mason sharply rebuked the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“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,” Mason said in a statement.

The Central Racine County Health Department, which has jurisdiction over all 14 of the county’s other municipalities, which have a cumulative population of about 120,000, is not issuing its own order. The sheriff previously said he would no longer enforce the statewide order.

The department only offered an extensive list of recommendations Thursday afternoon, such as asking businesses that open limit themselves to 50 percent capacity, but there are no requirements.

The county had 785 total cases and 17 deaths as of Wednesday, according to DHS data.

Kenosha County: Dr. Jen Freiheit, Kenosha County’s public health officer, extended the order without modifications late Wednesday. It was set to last through 8 a.m. on May 26.

However, citing “differing and updated legal guidance” from the Counties Association, the county withdrew the order late Thursday night.

Like Racine County, Kenosha County’s outbreak is quickly growing. It had 736 cases and 17 deaths as of Wednesday, according to DHS data.

Milwaukee, city and county: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s administration issued a citywide stay-home order in March, the day before Gov. Tony Evers enacted the statewide restrictions. That order had no end date, so it remains in effect. 

The city’s rules were essentially identical to the state’s order.

The county’s 10 suburban health departments jointly issued a new order that lasts until 11:59 p.m. on May 21. It is far more relaxed than the city’s.

Most businesses, including hair salons, spas, and tattoo parlors are allowed to operate if they adhere to social distancing guidelines. Outdoor playgrounds, driving ranges, and beaches can also reopen.

Nonessential businesses like bowling alleys, museums, and theaters remain closed.

In a joint statement, the suburban municipalities said the modified order will “protect the lives and livelihoods of our communities.”

The affected municipalities are: Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Hales Corners, Oak Creek, Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, South Milwaukee, St. Francis, Wauwatosa, West Allis, and West Milwaukee. 

Cudahy pulled out of the order on Friday.

Milwaukee County had 4,395 confirmed cases and 229 deaths as of Thursday, according to county data. Five suburbs — Franklin, Oak Creek, West Allis, Wauwatosa, and Greenfield — have over 100 cases, and the city itself has over 3,300.

Dane County: The joint Madison-Dane County Health Department extended the stay-home order through 8 a.m. on May 26 almost immediately after the Supreme Court killed the statewide order. Like the City of Racine’s extension, the only change is that religious entities are allowed to operate under essential business guidelines.

“It is critical to continue following Safer at Home right now to keep Dane County residents healthy and keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed,” the Health Department said in a statement.

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Rock County: Marie Noel-Sandoval, Rock County’s public health officer, issued an extension of the statewide order Wednesday night.

“The most effective way to prevent, control, and suppress COVID-19 is for state officials and the state legislature to work together and … that has not occurred,” the order reads.

Rock County, home to Janesville and Beloit, had 380 cases and 13 deaths as of Wednesday, according to DHS data.

Outagamie County: The county issued an indefinite extension, also adopting the Badger Bounce Back plan, on Thursday.

Appleton, which is in Outagamie, Calumet, and Winnebago counties, issued its own order late Wednesday night, adopting all provisions of the state’s order. It will expire at 8 a.m. on May 20. 

However, Appleton and Outagamie, Calumet, and Winnebago counties withdrew their orders Friday.

Eau Claire County: Residents will be under a relaxed version of Evers’ order through midnight on May 28, the county Health Department announced Thursday.

Businesses, including salons, spas, and tattoo parlors, will be allowed to open as long as they can operate while abiding by social distancing guidelines. Large gatherings are still prohibited.

The county currently has 63 confirmed cases and no deaths.

Waupaca County: Through June 15, the county is prohibiting gatherings of 50 people or more, but is allowing all businesses to reopen under the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s guidelines.

The county’s order does not say if there will be any enforcement.

Green County: All of the state’s stay-home restrictions remain in place through 8 a.m. on May 26.

Menasha: The city issued an indefinite extension of the statewide order, in addition to formally adopting Evers’ Badger Bounce Back plan.

The order was subsequently withdrawn on Friday as other local governments around the state nixed their extensions.

Calumet County: The county issued an indefinite extension with slightly relaxed restrictions, but withdrew the order on Friday.

Bars and restaurants were able to open, but only with outdoor seating, under the county’s indefinite order. Businesses could open with a maximum of 25 percent of their permitted capacity, or with one customer per 1,000 square feet of space.

Gatherings were recommended to be limited to 50 people or fewer.

Door County: Health Officer Susan Powers extended the stay-home order until at least 5 p.m. May 20. In the extension, Powers wrote that she will develop “long-term guidance,” based on the Badger Bounce Back plan, to replace the order.

On Saturday, after many local governments dropped their orders,
Door County said it would keep the order.

Florence County: Public Health Officer Annette Seibold extended the order indefinitely.

The county will also immediately certain provisions of the second phase of Badger Bounce Back, including allowing gatherings of up to 50 people, allowing bars and restaurants to open as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines, and allowing barber shops, spas, and tattoo parlors to open with social distancing guidelines.

Douglas County: Superior Mayor Jim Paine wrote in a Facebook post that the county Health Department is requiring businesses to follow the WEDC reopening guidelines if they decide to reopen, and gatherings will be restricted to 20 people.

Manitowoc County: The stay-home order was extended through May 20, but the county rescinded it after Brown County retracted its order.

Marquette County: In what appears to be the shortest extension in the state, Health Officer Jayme Sopha is keeping the stay-home restrictions in place through 3 p.m. Friday.