GOP leaders ask Tony Evers not to place further restrictions on businesses

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Bars are in a difficult position as they weigh closing or operating with smaller crowds because of the 50 person limit on gatherings. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON – Republican leaders of the state Legislature are asking Gov. Tony Evers not to place any further restrictions on Wisconsin residents’ ability to spend money, warning of an economic collapse.

Evers has ordered the closure of schools, bars, restaurants, hair salons and limited gatherings to 10 people or fewer to lessen the chance that the coronavirus spreads like wildfire throughout the state, endangering thousands of lives.

Other states, including Illinois and California, have gone further and codified advice by ordering all of their residents to stay in their homes — a measure Evers has said, for now, he isn’t taking.

Senate leaders Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Roger Roth of Appleton and Assembly leaders Robin Vos of Rochester and Jim Steineke of Kaukauna said Saturday they agree with the governor’s position, saying more restrictions are unnecessary in Wisconsin.

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“The consequences felt by citizens and small businesses around the state has already been tremendous,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “As we move forward together in this fight to defeat the virus, we must keep in mind that the people we serve need the jobs they have today to help weather this storm. Continued economic activity will not only help us in our fight against this virus today, it will also ensure that we don’t have to fight to recover from economic collapse tomorrow.”

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In response, Evers said Saturday he continues to encourage Wisconsin residents to stay home as much as they can.

“We all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus and keep our healthcare workers safe,” Evers said in a statement.

Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said conversations with the GOP lawmakers have been productive “and we look forward to continued collaboration as everyone works to respond to this crisis.”

Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm told reporters Friday that the state doesn’t have enough tests for sick people wondering if they’re infected or enough supplies for health care workers to safely take care of the ill. The state health care system also may not have enough ventilators to help anyone who contracts the virus, which causes serious respiratory illness, to recover.

Palm also said the state may ask residents to do more, suggesting more restrictions could come.

The spread of coronavirus is forcing state leaders to navigate the needs of keeping people healthy — and alive — and avoiding a total economic collapse.

Wisconsin saw its first four coronavirus-related deaths this week as the number of people testing positive for the virus topped 200, with new cases growing by dozens on a daily basis.

Columbia University researchers estimate the percentage of Wisconsin residents infected in the state’s most populous counties could reach 65% in Milwaukee County by July and 74% in Dane County by June — infecting 610,000 and 360,000 people in each county, respectively — without severe restrictions in place similar to ones Evers has ordered.

Under measures like closing schools and restaurants, working remotely, banning large gatherings and a strict adherence across the country to social distancing, that infection rate drops dramatically to 2% of Milwaukee County residents and Dane County residents by the end of July.  

At the same time, such measures have contributed to more than 60,000 people filing for unemployment in Wisconsin in one week, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal, and prompted the closure of businesses — some for good.

You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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