SUPERIOR, Wis. – Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday is closing time for most Wisconsin businesses. Many have already shut their doors and are bracing for what may be next.
Evers will order all nonessential businesses to close their offices and storefronts to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed five people in the state and infected more than 400.
“We have in the past and will continue to ask people to stay at home, stay at home, stay at home,” Evers said Monday. “We’re not getting to the point we wanted to be.”
Though not a full shelter-in-place directive, the “safer at home” order announced Monday left many questions about which businesses, beyond hospitals and grocery stores, would be allowed to stay open.
“We’ll play it by ear,” said Taylor Pedersen, president of the Superior Chamber of Commerce. “Things are changing by the hour.”
Mark Casper, the owner of Keyport Liquors, said he’s heard Evers’ order is modeled after Illinois’ stay-at-home order, which was put in place Saturday and allows liquor stores to remain open.
“If they would just come out and say they’re not closing down the liquor stores, it would just make it so much easier,” he said. “We wouldn’t be getting these mad rushes. They need to come up with something definite.”
For a border community like Superior, the order also leaves some residents living in two worlds. About a third of Douglas County’s workforce commutes to Duluth or elsewhere in Minnesota, according to state data. Thousands of Minnesotans head into Superior to work every day as well.
“People go both ways on the bridge in the morning,” Pedersen said. “What does it mean if shelter at home happens in Wisconsin but not in Minnesota?”
Each state has escalated its response — closing schools, bars, restaurants, salons — at a similar pace so far.
Amy Boylan, a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, lifted a case of beer into her cart at Keyport Liquors and said: “You know Minnesota’s right behind.”
On Monday afternoon, a couple walked their dog down Tower Avenue in downtown Superior, and a handful of cars passed by the mostly closed shops and businesses on the city’s main street.
Rika Weiberg stood behind the cash register of UpNorth Sundries, the gift shop she owns with her husband.
“I’ve been telling customers that this is our last day,” Weiberg said. She’s planning on listing her merchandise on a website but hasn’t gotten it set up yet. “I’m just trying to stay positive. We will do what we can.”
Not a single customer was in the store as she prepared to close indefinitely.
“A lot of Twin Ports businesses are coming off a long winter, and were starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Pedersen said. “What does this do to that light? This is kind of a scary time.”
Enbridge, with a major oil terminal and offices in Superior, has already taken moves that would meet the at-home order, and many office employees are working from home, said spokeswoman Juli Kellner. We “continue to safely and reliably operate our facilities with essential personnel,” she said.
Earlier that day Mayor Jim Paine had urged residents to avoid shopping if possible, as people with newly confirmed coronavirus cases had recently been in local stores.
“Do not go shopping today,” Paine wrote on Facebook. “We have to limit grocery store and pharmacy crowds as much as possible. Please only go shopping to purchase necessary supplies and use curbside pickup where possible.”
Douglas County now has four confirmed cases, all linked to domestic travel from the first confirmed local case, the county’s public health department said in a news release.
The four are men and women in their 30s-50s living in the county and in Superior. One was sent home from work due to having a cough, the county said, “confirming the need to stay home from work when sick.”
As the virus swept through Minnesota’s political leadership on Monday, leaving the governor in quarantine and a senator’s husband hospitalized, state Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, became the first Wisconsin legislator to say they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Bowen, 33, said he was recovering at home.
The second state Department of Corrections worker tested positive for the virus Monday as well. No prisoners have tested positive so far.
Wisconsin jury trials have been postponed until at least the end of May, and in-person court hearings have been suspended through the end of April.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison also announced Monday it will hold a “virtual ceremony” for graduation, a move Chancellor Rebecca Blank called “heartbreaking.”
There are plans to hold a live ceremony once the coronavirus crisis has abated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.