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Governor Tony Evers announced plans Monday to limit all non-essential travel and close non-essential businesses in Wisconsin to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Starting Tuesday, Evers will order Wisconsin residents not to take any unnecessary trips and to limit travel to essential needs. Necessary trips include getting groceries, going to the doctor, or getting medication. 

Governor Tony Evers

The “safer at home” order means people can go outside if they practice social distancing. 

It does not apply to people traveling to work at essential businesses.

The order also includes closing non-essential businesses, a move that drew heavy criticism from state Republicans, who said they were caught off guard with the announcement.

“Over the past few days, I’ve talked with public health experts and with business leaders and local elected officials around the state. 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.”

The details announced Monday were sparse as to which businesses would be considered nonessential and ordered closed. But restaurants are expected to still offer carryout and drive-through services. More details are expected to be announced Tuesday.

“We have been working hard to ensure the health and safety of the people of our state as we have responded to COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “We’ve taken some important steps, but folks, time is of the essence. So today I’m announcing we’ll be issuing a #SaferAtHome order tomorrow (March 24, 2020).”

Republicans criticize Evers’ decisions

In response, House Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) released a joint statement Monday afternoon saying Evers’ announcement surprised them and his decision creates confusion.

Robin Vos

They said the decision marked a change of course that brought about uncertainty.

According to the statement:

“For days, Governor Evers took a measured approach and reassured business owners that a shelter-in-place order may not be necessary. Legislative leaders even complimented him for it. The governor’s sudden change of course and lack of specific guidance has increased the level of uncertainty and anxiety in our state. The people of Wisconsin deserve clear communications during a public health emergency.”

Calling on Evers to do a better job communicating his decisions and the reason those decisions are being made, they criticized his performance at a press conference.

“We all want what’s best for Wisconsin. We want people to stay safe and follow CDC guidelines,” the statement reads. “We would ask the governor to do a better job communicating to the people of Wisconsin.”

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COVID-19 cases continue to increase

Almost half of Wisconsin counties are reporting one or more cases of COVID-19. The number of people infected with the virus continues to rise as more people are tested. The total stands at 425 cases.

Five of those cases are residents of Racine County. Of those cases, three people are from the City of Racine.

While the symptoms of COVID-19 seem similar to a cold, this virus is different and our bodies do not have immunity to it, say officials with the Center for Disease Control.

Somewhere between 20 and 60 percent of adults could contract the virus and about a fifth of the people who get COVID-19 could need to be hospitalized, according to officials at the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Health officials have voiced concerns that the spread of the virus could mean larger numbers of people will need medical care. If that happens, hospitals can’t deal with a higher volume of patient care.

Symptoms range from mild to severe. Still, about 80 percent of people who contract the virus are expected to experience mild symptoms. It can take from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus to appear. Ascension Wisconsin started drive-through testing on Monday for people who have appointments.

Racine County health departments also ordered a lockdown Monday on all long-term care facilities.


Denise Lockwood

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.