PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (Reuters) – Wisconsin’s governor on Thursday predicted confusion among residents and business after the state supreme court struck down his sweeping stay-at-home order, fueling a growing political divide over how and when to reopen the shattered U.S. economy.
A handful of patrons mingle at Patio Bar and Grill a day after the state?s Supreme Court halted the state?s stay at home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Port Washington, Wisconsin, U.S. May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan O?Brien
The court’s decision, which found that Governor Tony Evers and state health officials did not have the authority to unilaterally confine residents to their homes or bar them from work, marked the first time such coronavirus restrictions had been overturned in the United States.
“I can’t imagine another state that is in this predicament, where essentially mile-by-mile there may be different rules across all the state of Wisconsin,” Evers, a Democrat, told a news conference.
In Port Washington, Wisconsin, hair stylist Linda Teichert said she was not ready to reopen the shop she has owned for the last three decades, saying she needs a clearer picture from the state regarding face coverings and social distancing requirements.
“I don’t know what they want me to do yet,” Teichert said. “It’s too nebulous. There’s not enough information out there. I want to be ready.”
The state’s top health official, Andrea Palm, said the supreme court decision, which came in a response to a lawsuit brought by Republican lawmakers, “changes nothing about the science of this virus or the work we need to continue to do together to safely reopen Wisconsin.”
A Republican state senator, Tom Tiffany, called for Palm’s resignation, blaming her for the economic fallout from the restrictions.
“Tens of thousands of people are struggling to apply for unemployment in an attempt to survive the storm she caused,” Tiffany said.
The Wisconsin ruling highlights a growing patchwork of regulations across the United States governing where residents can go and what they can do with or without mask, as different states and counties lift some restrictions and tighten others.
TRUMP CHEERS RULING
Wisconsin has recorded 11,000 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and 421 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Nationwide the virus has infected 1.4 million Americans and killed nearly 85,000.
President Donald Trump has cheered the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, writing on Twitter on Thursday: “The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”
Some residents flocked to bars on Wednesday to celebrate the 4-3 ruling by a conservative majority on the court.
On Thursday the president took his reopening rallying cry to Pennsylvania, where he toured a medical equipment distributor. It was his second major trip outside the White House since March, both to battleground states considered key to winning his re-election bid in November.
“They ought to start thinking about opening it up,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington, referring to Pennsylvania and the state’s political leadership.
Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee who has largely been confined to his home during the outbreak, accused Trump of making the trip to divide Americans, “casting Democrats as doomsayers hoping to keep America grounded and Republicans as freedom fighters trying to liberate the economy.”
U.S. government data released on Thursday showed the economic carnage is continuing. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9, raising the number of people to file claims since mid-March to 36.5 million – more than one in five workers.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said five state regions would take first steps to reopen some businesses on Friday while a stay-at-home order remained in effect for New York City. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said beaches would open for Memorial Day weekend.
MICHIGAN PROTESTERS CALL FOR REOPENING
In Michigan, hundreds of people gathered on Thursday in the state capital, Lansing, to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to extend her stay-at-home order until at least May 28. Some carried signs in support of Trump.
Witnesses said Thursday’s protest was peaceful. A handful of demonstrators carried guns, which state law permits. Police quickly broke up a scuffle. On April 30, hundreds of protesters, some armed, entered the Capitol and demanded to enter the House floor.
Whitmer has given the go-ahead to restart manufacturing from this week in her state, enabling U.S. automakers to plan reopenings across the country on Monday because so many parts suppliers are based in and around Detroit.
Underlining the disparate reactions to the Wisconsin court ruling, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, said his stay-at-home order would remain intact. That meant bars and restaurants like Lakefront Brewery, employing about 170 full and part time employees, will stay closed for now.
Lakefront president Russ Klisch said he was not ready to reopen his doors anyway, as he was still waiting on orders of plexiglass to put between tables and at the bar and needed to train staff to keep themselves and customers safe.
“We are going to have to learn to deal with this one way or another,” Klisch told Reuters in a phone interview. “But we are going to have to deal with it in a way that is safe.”
Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Michael Martina in Detroit, Lisa Shumaker and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey and Lucia Mutikani in Washington, D.C., and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis