HUDSON, WIS. – Ted Mosby couldn’t help but feel conflicted Thursday as he finished his drink at Jonesy’s Local Bar and Grill a day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court quashed Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order.
“The virus is real. … We supposedly haven’t reached our peak yet. That’s the scary part,” said Mosby, a carpenter and retired EMT worker. “We’ll reach it sooner now that we’re open.”
But it’s also good, he admitted, to once again sit at a bar and quench his thirst after work. “I’m rolling the dice. … People are getting antsy. They’re stir-crazy.”
Across much of Wisconsin on Thursday, businesses began to reopen — or made plans to do so — after a two-month shutdown that Evers, a Democrat, put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. The conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that Evers’ order was invalid and tossed it, effective immediately. That will force the governor to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on a new plan.
That was largely good news for many business owners, who were as eager to reopen and stem financial losses as they were cautious about the virus, expecting guidance and possibly restrictions from state and local officials that might limit their operations.
“Two weeks ago I wasn’t convinced we would be open this summer,” said Pete Foster, who stood in the still-empty dining room at Barker’s Bar & Grill — one of three restaurants in town that he owns.
His businesses, which he said have lost $850,000 in sales, have survived on takeout orders.
He hopes to open his dining rooms next week, but only after he has put measures in place to make employees and customers feel safe.
It was the same at other businesses in town.
At Hop and Barrel Brewing, half the tables had been removed as well as half the seating at the tables that remained. No one will be allowed to sit at the bar when it reopens Friday. Workers will wear masks and gloves.
At Abigail Page Antique Mall, owner Linda Weiser is allowing only five customers at a time. Everyone must wear a mask. She offers them a pump of hand sanitizer for free, a mask for $1 and gloves for 50 cents.
“This is the new normal,” Weiser said.
Worries about days ahead
Public health authorities have repeatedly warned that those who choose to ignore social distancing could spread the disease.
At a news briefing Thursday, Evers expressed concern about what’s to come.
As of Thursday, 11,275 Wisconsinites had tested positive for COVID-19 and 434 people had died from the virus.
But in recent days, the percentage of positive cases had been dropping, according to state health officials.
“Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19,” Evers said.
Now, he fears, more people will get sick, hospitals will be overwhelmed and people will die.
“The Supreme Court may have changed the rules for how we operate, but it sure the heck did not change how viruses operate,” Evers said.
On Thursday, many local officials and health authorities scrambled to issue citywide — or countywide — stay-at-home orders, creating a hodgepodge of rules and regulations across the state. At least 12 cities and counties had issued their own orders placing restrictions on businesses and gatherings, with varying expiration dates, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In northwestern Wisconsin, Superior and Douglas County announced that they will develop requirements for businesses to reopen, including imposing safety guidelines the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation recently issued.
If the rules are broken, businesses would risk closure. If outbreaks occur at local businesses, they would be publicly identified.
“Our goal is to help people put changes in place so people are safe,” said Douglas County health officer Kathy Ronchi.
Step in right direction
When Keith Kern heard Wednesday that the stay-at-home order was no longer in place, he headed to his bar in Superior to prepare for its Thursday opening.
“I think it’s a start in the right direction — it’s where we need to go,” said Kern, district director for the Wisconsin Tavern League and owner of Jimmy’s Saloon.
“We’re going to be able to show the community and people who think we shouldn’t be able to open … that safety is our top concern.”
In Hudson, Eric Raley was scrambling to finish the remodel of Dick’s Bar and Grill that he worked on during the shutdown.
“My phone blew up Wednesday with the news,” he said. “I thought, ‘Good. This should have happened weeks ago.’ ”
Raley acknowledges not everyone will rush into his bar next week. And that’s OK. “If you have underlying health risks, stay home. If you’re afraid to be out, stay home,” he said.
Knowing that some people won’t feel safe enough to enter their establishments, some restaurants and retailers will continue to offer curbside pickup.
Others, like Foster at Barker’s Bar and Grill, fear a deluge of customers who want to shake off weeks of being told to stay home, including nearby Minnesota residents who won’t see restaurants, bars or salons open until June 1 at the earliest.
“Memorial [Day] weekend is coming up and I expect to be flooded,” Foster said. He plans to hire an off-duty cop in case there’s misbehavior. “I think all the river towns will be jamming with Minnesota folks.”
That’s not something Nicole Barnes wants to see happen.
Barnes, who owns a two-chair salon business, dropped into Jonesy’s Thursday to have a drink with a friend. On Monday, she plans to be back at work, but with numerous measures in place to safeguard herself and her customers.
She’ll wear a mask and face shield, and her customers may, too, if they want. They will also wait in their cars until Barnes is ready for them, and she’ll serve only one customer at a time.
“I’m going to open slowly and safely,” she said. “There’s still a virus out there. I won’t put my clients at risk just so I can make a dollar.”
Like many business owners, she’s glad to get back to work. Yet she worries about her town, and the possible influx of Minnesotans antsy to get back to pre-pandemic life.
As of Thursday, St. Croix County has had no confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Across the river in Minnesota, Washington County has had 18.
“Minnesotans will flood into here,” she said. “I’m a little scared. … I want to be open, but I don’t want people coming here from a hot spot.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.