MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that he will order the closure of all nonessential businesses starting Tuesday and he urged people to stay at home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has killed five people in the state and infected more than 400.
The order from Evers, which he is calling "safer at home," follows his orders to close the state's K-12 schools and various businesses, including bars, restaurants and hair salons. He also limited gatherings to no more than 10 people.
But the newer, tighter restriction mirrors what other places have done, including neighboring Illinois, to try and force people not to leave their homes or interact with others unless absolutely necessary.
Evers said many unanswered questions about the order, including the full list of exemptions and how long it would be in place, would be released on Tuesday.
Those who provide essential care and services, such as doctors, nurses and other in the health care industry, grocers and family caregivers, will be granted an exemption, Evers said. But everyone else should limit their travel to essential needs like getting groceries and medication and going to the doctor and stay 6 feet apart from anyone else, he said.
The order would be enforced by law enforcement.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Evers said he came to the decision after talking with public health experts, businesses leaders and local elected officials across state. Groups representing Wisconsin's hospitals, health systems, doctors, nurses, clinics, health centers, nursing homes and long-term care facilities all came out in support of the order and the call for people to stay at home.
The goal is to slow the spread of the disease so there isn't a surge in patients that overwhelms hospitals and health care workers.
"Overwhelmingly the response I heard is that we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin," Evers said. "In fact, business leaders have suggested that it is imperative to slow the growth of the disease and that the state cease all non-essential business statewide. And, folks, all hands on deck means you, too."
Republican legislative leaders last week praised Evers' position at that time against a shelter-in-place order, saying then that "a further shutdown of businesses in Wisconsin is unnecessary." They had no immediate reaction to the latest decision.
Evers said Monday that while he didn't think he would have to order more closures, "folks need to start taking this seriously."
A fifth death, and the third in Milwaukee County, was confirmed Monday. The number of total cases increased from 381 to 416 in 30 counties.
The mayor of Superior, in northwestern Wisconsin just across the border from Duluth, Minnesota, urged people not to go shopping on Monday because people who recently went to local grocery stores and other businesses were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Also on Monday, the state Department of Corrections said a second worker in a Wisconsin prison tested positive for the virus. The latest positive test was at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage. It comes after a doctor at the Waupun Correctional Institution tested positive last month. Both prisons are maximum security.
No prisoners have tested positive, the department said Monday. Inmate advocacy groups, fearful of an outbreak of the virus behind bars, have been urging Evers to make a series of sweeping changes to protect inmates, including letter older ones go free.
Evers on Saturday froze new admissions to the state prisons, saying inmates will have to continue to be housed in county jail cells.
Also, all jury trials in Wisconsin have been postponed until at least the end of May and in-person court proceedings have been suspending statewide through at least the end of April.
33-year-old member of Wisconsin Legislature has virus
A 33-year-old Wisconsin state representative from Milwaukee says he has tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first member of the Legislature known to have contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Democratic Rep. David Bowen said Monday that the confirmation came over the weekend after he had been running a fever late last week. Bowen said he is quarantined at home and “still fighting symptoms.”
Bowen said he learned last week from the Shorewood Health Department that he had been in contact with a fellow local elected official who had tested positive. He said he immediately quarantined himself and after he started to show symptoms himself got tested.
“It is imperative that this virus be taken seriously and that individuals minimize social interactions and stay home to prevent further spread of this virus and its immobilizing symptoms,” Bowen said. “Had I known of my status even earlier, I would have reduced my exposure to others who may potentially have gotten the virus from me.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison cancels graduation ceremony
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has canceled its planned graduation ceremonies that were to take place May 8 and May 9 and will instead offer a "virtual ceremony."
The decision from UW-Madison announced Monday was not unexpected given similar moves made by universities across the country. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the university and senior class officers were developing a virtual commencement that will be posted online May 8 for all graduates to watch.
She also says an in-person event at a future date after the public health crisis has subsided is being planned.
About 7,000 undergraduate degrees are typically handed out at the May graduation ceremony that attracts about 40,000 people.
"Of all the decisions we've had to make in this extraordinary time, this one has been the most heartbreaking for me," Blank said. "We held out on this decision as long as possible, in hopes that the outlook for late spring might brighten and we'd be able to gather as usual."
But she said given the state and federal guidelines against gatherings of more than 10 people, there was no way any graduation ceremonies could proceed, including smaller ones in schools, colleges, departments or other campus organizations.
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