Virus Outbreak Citizen Comments

This March 27, 2016 photo provided by Linda Gabriel shows Gabriel with her husband Robert Gabriel in St. Paul, Minn. Gabriel of Eau Claire Wis., wrote to Gov. Tony Evers saying that the stay-at-home order has prevented her from visiting her husband of 48 years, who is in hospice care as he battles brain cancer. She had hoped to see him when the original order lifted but now fears the extension will prevent her from returning to his side before he dies. (Photo courtesy of Linda Gabriel via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers' office was flooded with hundreds of emails in the hours surrounding his decision to extend Wisconsin's stay-at-home order accusing him of destroying the state's economy, begging him to let business re-open and warning that voters will punish him, an Associated Press review found.

One woman pleaded with Evers to let her visit her husband in hospice before he dies of brain cancer. Other people demanded he let youth baseball resume and allow hair salons to re-open. A hairdresser wrote that Evers' hair looks so good on TV he must be using a stylist in violation of his own order.

Most just vented.

"Wisconsin hates you and your lawless so called Governing!" wrote Julie Kuether. "You are by far the WORST Governor of this state! You have never once given a state address on any plan to help this state! You hide in your office and tweet. Completely insane and pathetic!"

Asked about the messages during a video conference, Evers acknowledged people and businesses are struggling but said the best way forward is to attack the virus. He said his order isn't as restrictive as other states' stay-at-home mandates.

Evers issued a stay-at-home order in March that closed schools and non-essential businesses and mandated social distancing in an effort to slow the coronavirus. The order was supposed to lift Friday, but Evers on April 17 extended it until May 26, the day after Memorial Day.

Evers, a Democrat, has said repeatedly the order is necessary to prevent a surge of coronavirus victims from overwhelming medical providers, and polls show most Americans agree. But just like the rest of the nation, Wisconsin has suffered skyrocketing unemployment and a paralyzed private sector. Republican lawmakers have asked the state Supreme Court to block the order. Hundreds of people protested the order at the state Capitol on Friday.

The AP filed an open records request seeking emails related to the order that Evers' office received on April 16, the day before he extended the order, and on April 17, the day he issued the extension. Evers' office turned over about 6,435 emails, meaning he got an email on the subject every 20 seconds for 27 straight hours.

Linda Gabriel of Eau Claire wrote that the stay-at-home order has prevented her from visiting her husband, Robert, in hospice as he battles brain cancer. She feared the extension will prevent her from returning to his side before he dies.

"Just think how you and your family would feel if you were in this situation knowing you were dying, scared and alone," she wrote. "Sincerely, his brokenhearted wife of 48 years."

Linda Gabriel said in a telephone interview that she has tried to visit her husband through the window in his room but they can't see each other through a sun shade. He's hard of hearing so they can't talk by phone, she added.

"Time is so precious right now," she said, choking up. "I just feel so helpless. It's insane that it's come to this." The hospice later allowed Gabriel to visit.

Many people writing to Evers argued that infection rates are lower in northern Wisconsin than in the state's more urbanized southern half and he should open things up on a regional basis. One writer demanded Evers allow youth baseball to resume, saying the governor is asking kids to "give up life." Others asked Evers to open campgrounds, restaurants and beauty salons.

"Hi Governor Evers. I am a Hairstylist . . . We have 6 of us that work in the salon. I believe . . . all Hairstylists be able to go back to work," wrote Julie Landua. "It looks like your hair and everyone else in the news and on TV look pretty well groomed. Someone isn't following the rules! . . . Let us get back to work! Not all of us like collecting unemployment and sitting on our butts."

Laundua didn't indicate where her salon is located. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Some writers supported the extension and thanked Evers.

"You made the right choice to stay closed until May 26," wrote Kelly Lilly. "I would rather be poor and endure that, than be buried or have someone I love buried."

Lilly, who sells cars in Milwaukee, said in a telephone interview that she's been furloughed for a month but following science is the best course.

"I think the extension was good to make sure we have a handle on this," she said. "I have elderly parents. You want everybody to stay safe."

Other messages were far more bitter.

"Dictator we will not recognize your extension!!!" wrote Michelle Baas. "You isolate and quarantine the sick not the healthy! You are creating fear to destroy lives not help! You will be recalled and never see politics again!"

Baas didn't say where she lives in her message. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

After AP made inquiries about Robert Gabriel's case, his hospice allowed Linda and her daughter to visit him for four hours. The company declined to comment on the Gabriels' situation, citing patient privacy.

John Sauer, president of LeadingAge Wisconsin, an association that represents nursing homes and residential facilities, said federal guidelines on visitors are guiding policies in those facilities.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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