Racine’s Stay-Home Order is Back Yet Again. Here’s What You Need to Know.
Downtown Racine (Photo via Facebook/City of Racine)

Rules return to limiting restaurants and bars to 50 percent capacity, limiting gyms and other indoor recreational establishments to 25 percent capacity.

Racine’s local stay-home order meant to guard against the spread of coronavirus is back in effect yet again after an appeals court ruled the order could temporarily remain in effect on Friday, just two days after a local judge struck the order down as “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.”

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Paul Reilly said on Friday that the order can be reinstated while an appeal is heard. Reilly’s decision was first reported by the Racine Journal Times. The reinstatement marks the third significant development regarding the order in as many weeks as the City of Racine fights a legal battle with a local gym owner to keep the COVID-19 safeguards in place. 

For a time, Racine County had one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the country. The growth in cases there has slowed greatly, but the county is neck-and-neck with Milwaukee for the most infections per-capita in the state (Racine County, population 200,000, has just over 2,200 confirmed cases; the City of Racine, population about 75,000, has 1,468 of those).

In a Friday afternoon Facebook Live broadcast announcing Reilly’s decision, Racine Mayor Cory Mason called the restrictions “critically important.” 

“Our Safer Racine ordinance is back in effect. It will be enforced,” Mason said.

The rules include limiting restaurants and bars to 50 percent capacity, limiting gyms and other indoor recreational establishments to 25 percent capacity, and allowing most businesses and facilities to open as long as they adhere to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s reopening guidelines.

In his decision that the rules can remain in place for now, Reilly directly refuted one of the arguments Racine County Circuit Court Judge Jon Frederickson used in his decision to kill the order — that limiting public gatherings was a violation of the constitutional right to assemble.

“Just as capacity limits set for public establishments for fire safety reasons are not unconstitutional despite limiting the number of people who can assemble in one place, so may capacity restrictions be set for health reasons to control communicable diseases,” Reilly wrote

Confused yet? Don’t worry. Here’s a basic timeline of the whirlwind of events:

  • May 13: The Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide stay-home order.
  • May 14: Racine’s Health Department is one of a handful of authorities to issue a local order to replace the governor’s. The Central Racine County Health Department, which holds jurisdiction over the vast majority of the rest of the county, only offers unenforceable recommendations.
  • May 24: David Yandel, owner of Harbor Park CrossFit in downtown Racine, sues the city to get the restrictions lifted because, he says, he lost business during the pandemic. The order remains in effect for almost a month.
  • June 19: Frederickson, an appointee of ex-Gov. Scott Walker, says the order cannot be enforced while the case is argued in court.
  • June 22: The Racine Common Council passes a nearly identical order to replace the suspended one. 
  • June 24: Frederickson kills the new ordinance and threatens to hold the city in contempt of court, writing city officials “engaged in a direct attack on this Court’s order.”
  • July 1: Frederickson officially rules that Racine’s order was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague,” while simultaneously acknowledging it was incredibly specific. He explicitly notes that his ruling does not prevent the city from passing smaller-scale restrictions, but said it would need to be up to aldermen, not the city’s health director. Mason blasts Frederickson as “a right-wing, activist judge” and the city immediately appeals the decision. 
  • July 3: Reilly decides Racine can continue to enforce its order while the case is argued at the Court of Appeals.