Ruling leaves county, municipalities scrambling to decide whether to issue rules of their own

Some restaurants, bars waste no time in opening, others will wait
Ozaukee Press staff

Businesses wishing to reopen or groups of people wanting to gather together following Wednesday's state Supreme Court decision ending Gov. Tony Evers' Safer at Home order will have nothing to fear from Ozaukee County government, officials say.

"The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department will issue no countywide orders limiting the public or businesses at this time in response to the current status of the COVID‐19 pandemic in the county," a press release Thursday afternoon from County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said, calling Thursday "the first full day of life now that the Safer at Home Order has ended and the transaction of business countywide begins."

Dzwinel added: "The department will address any localized COVID‐19 outbreaks on an individual basis under local jurisdiction. Should countywide infections, outbreaks and deaths due to the pandemic change significantly from the current trajectory, Ozaukee County and the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department will respond appropriately."

The Supreme Court decision immediately lifted all restrictions on businesses, churches and other gatherings imposed by Evers’ order, which he sought to extend through May 26.

The order keeps in place the closure of schools until fall.

In a radio address Thursday, Evers said he was “disappointed” by the court’s ruling and urged residents to continue following Safer at Home restrictions and practice social distancing.

The high court said state law mandates that all future statewide restrictions to battle the coronavirus must be approved by the Legislature’s rule-making committee before they could be implemented.

The court ruled that Andrea Palm, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary, exceeded her authority when she issued an April 16 order prohibiting Wisconsin residents from leaving their homes unless it was essential.

That order was ruled to be “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable,” the court said.

The restrictions were set to expire on May 26.

Thursday morning in a separate announcement the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department advising businesses: “If you choose to reopen your business, you are not in violation of Safer at Home or orders issued by the health department. At this time, the health department has not issued any additional orders, but is working with county leaders to identify appropriate next steps.”

Soon after the court’s ruling, some counties and municipalities, including the City of Milwaukee, issued orders that stay-at-home restrictions would stay in place.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin told its members they could reopen immediately.

Several local bars and restaurants opened their doors Wednesday night. Between the Greens co-owner Dawn Brooks, wife of state Rep. Rob Brooks, said on Facebook that her restaurant would “fully reopen” on Friday while continuing to serve carry-out meals Thursday.

The owners of Riversedge restaurant in Saukville said they would continue to only serve carry-out food “for the foreseeable future.”

Joe Bartholomew, who owns Riversedge with his wife Laurie, said he’s not opening the restaurant to dine-in service yet due to health concerns over the spread of the virus but also because he’s not ready to handle an influx of dine-in customers.

“Safety concerns and our food supply; it just came down last night,” he said Thursday. “Next week it could change. We just want to make sure everything’s ready.”

Local municipal governments, some of whom had closed their offices to the public except for certain activities, were grappling Thursday with how to react to the court ruling.

Fredonia Village President Don Dohrwardt issued a statement Thursday saying he is preparing a statement to “vacate the stay-at-home and business-closing orders.

“This should not be construed as permission to open, but as an update to the Declaration of Emergency, which was issued in mid-March,” he said.

Dohrwardt advised business owners to consult their insurance carriers and attorneys before opening.

“Permits and licenses issued by the Village of Fredonia will not be affected,” he said. 

Ozaukee County Sheriff Jim Johnson issued a press release on Wednesday prior to the Supreme Court ruling that under state law Evers’ order expired on May 11 and that the health department by statute was the lead enforcement agency of the Safer at Home order.

“If Washington Ozaukee Public Health requests our assistance, we will respond to assist in their investigation of the violations,” Johnson said in the press release.

Meanwhile, the county Executive Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution that would extend two Covid-19 emergency declarations by 60 days to maintain the county's eligibility for federal and state funding related to the epidemic. One declaration expired on Monday, May 11. The other is set to expire on Monday, June 1.

The extension "does not impede any effort to restart economic activities in Ozaukee County or the State of Wisconsin or extend the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Human Services Safer at Home Orders," the resolution states.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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