PORT WASHINGTON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – As a handful of customers sat at the bar picking up beer and watching a replay of a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Junior Useling is prepared for what he hoped to be another busy night at the Patio Bar & Grill.
A handful of patrons mingle at the Patio Bar and Grill a day after the State Supreme Court suspended the state’s stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to Port Washington, Wisconsin, U.S. May 14. 2020. REUTERS / Brendan O? Brien
It was only last night that the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that the governor did not have the power to impose a statewide coronavirus lockdown, creating a mixture of hope and confusion among struggling business owners in the Midwest state.
Useling, 71, considers himself one of the luckiest: Port Washington is part of the county of Ozaukee which, unlike half a dozen other counties and cities in Wisconsin, interpreted the court decision as a fire unhindered green.
“Why should I stay closed? … I have mortgages and invoices. My god, if we continued, we would all be ruined, “he told Reuters. “This country is supposed to be free to do what you want.”
The court sided with a court challenge from Republican lawmakers who argued that the state’s top public health official, Andrea Palm, had overstepped his authority by imposing a home stay order until May 26.
Shortly after the decision was announced, some Wisconsinite beer-goers rushed to bars for their first taste of freedom in almost two months, and images appeared on social media of crowds without masked revelers. which were not 6 feet apart.
The divergence over how and when to reopen in Wisconsin reflects its status as a key battleground for the November 3 presidential election, as well as neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump won by a hair in 2016.
At a press conference on Thursday, Palm urged state residents to continue staying at their homes, although local officials said otherwise, warning that the relaxed restrictions could “increase our cases and deaths.” “.
Wisconsin had recorded 11,380 cases of coronavirus and 433 deaths as of Thursday.
The owner of Remington’s River Inn, Amy Ollman, said that she had already made the decision to reopen before the decision, a decision approved by a boss who shouted “open America” describing the cleaning of tables and chairs in the past two weeks.
“From top to bottom, from left to right, we cleaned up this whole place,” she said behind her bar in the village of Thiensville, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Milwaukee and also in the Ozaukee County. “It’s time to get back to normal.”
FIGHTING WITH DECISIONS
The court ruling came as heads of state struggled over how and when to ease mandatory business closings and other restrictions on social gatherings that have managed to slow the epidemic but have devastated the economy. economy.
Like most of his counterparts, Wisconsin Governor Tom Evers has had to weigh the interests of cities like Milwaukee and Madison against less populated areas that have seen fewer cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Evers’ unique approach embarrassed Republicans in his state and drew fire from President Donald Trump, who hit the governor on Twitter on Thursday saying that Wisconsin was “busy” and “that people want to continue their lives.” “
But the court ruling also caused confusion, as some local leaders in cities like Milwaukee and Appleton, as well as in Dane, Brown and Kenosha counties, maintained their lockdown.
Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, sent advice on Thursday telling 7,000 food and beverage establishments mostly independent of her group to follow local restrictions if they exist.
“The rest of the state, they can open 100% as they wish,” she said. “It’s a bit like the Wild Wild West right now.”
Mike Eitel said his phone “exploded” after the court decision with customers asking whether the Nomad World Pub in Milwaukee and the other establishments he owned would open that evening. He said it was a clear sign of pent-up demand.
But like other owners, Eitel said it was hard to buy masks, gloves and other protective equipment for its workers, faced with rising meat prices and wondered if a bar could even be profitable with strict rules of social distancing.
He also had to straddle two worlds: while Nomad cannot open until May 26 at the earliest under city rules, the open-air bar and the water sports rental store he runs in neighboring Waukesha County were free from restrictions starting Wednesday evening. .
“There is tremendous confusion about what it all means,” said Eitel. “It’s crazy.”
Reports by Brendan O’Brien in Port Washington, Wisconsin and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis
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