FRI AM News: Business groups cheering Supreme Court order while owners assess reopening; WisBusiness: The Podcast with Tim Size of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative

— Many business groups in Wisconsin are applauding the state Supreme Court for overruling the stay-at-home order, though a top labor official is slamming the potential negative effect on worker health and safety. 

Bill Smith, state director for NFIB Wisconsin, says small business leaders should be trusted to put the wellbeing of their customers and employees first, calling those two groups the “lifeblood” of these companies. 

“I’m confident they will do what needs to be done to create environments for workers and customers that are safe and secure,” he told yesterday. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business association, says the decision recognizes the need for the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to work together on a response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“(The) decision is a win for the state’s economy, countless businesses and hundreds of thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites who are ready to get back to work,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer in a statement. 

But Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale is criticizing the “cynical lawsuit” brought by GOP legislative leaders, arguing it was aimed at taking authority away from the governor. She says the economy shouldn’t be reopened until Wisconsin has a “constant and adequate supply” of personal protective equipment for workers. 

“If workers aren’t safe, the public isn’t safe,” she said in a statement. “Right now, far too many essential workers are working without adequate personal protective equipment; their workplaces are not sufficiently cleaned and sanitized; and recommended social distancing is not universally practiced.” 

Business owners across the state are responding to the Supreme Court’s decision in varying ways. Carol Trainor, owner of the Urban Olive & Vine in Hudson, says she’s holding off on doing so for the good of both staff and customers, according to a report from the Star Tribune. But the owner of Anne’s Barbershop in Reedsburg, Annie Brown, plans to open next week and already has more than 100 appointments set, a report from the Wisconsin State Journal shows. 

Chad Arndt, owner of the Iron Hog Saloon in Port Washington, posted on Facebook last week that he would be reopening on Wednesday afternoon — well before the stay-at-home order restricting businesses was overruled. In a follow-up post after opening, Arndt thanked patrons who showed up, writing “right or wrong we control our lives.” 

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— Tim Size, executive director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, says on this week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” that rural hospitals are ready to reopen.

While he said both urban and rural hospitals had to learn a lot in such a short period of time, the state is now at a point where “hospitals across the state feel they have the confidence and capacity to safely begin to reopen.” 

Size is a supporter of a regional approach, but he argues that it’s not a partisan view. He noted New York’s Democratic governor chose to reopen the state regionally. 

“Most of our state has had for the last two months the greater part of our hospitals basically sitting empty — that’s urban and rural — and it was the right thing to do,” he said. But he said that health leaders and professionals alike have a “strong sense” that hospitals are able to and need to safely reopen.

“The rural hospital is only as strong as the rural community and our rural economy,” said Size. “Any community can reopen in a thoughtful way and safe way and that’s what we need to be doing.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

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— The Wisconsin Restaurant Association is cautioning its members to “carefully open if they feel it’s right” now that the Safer at Home order has been lifted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

WRA President Kristine Hillmer said her organization in partnership with local health officials developed “the Wisconsin Restaurant Promise” to show potential customers the restaurant is taking pandemic safety seriously.

“This has been an extremely difficult situation for restaurant owners who sincerely want to do what’s best for everyone involved,” she said yesterday. “Of paramount concern is the need to mitigate the risk of spread and build confidence in their customers.”

According to the release, restaurants can receive the endorsement if they’ve proven: all staff have passed health checks prior to each shift, all tables have been cleaned and sanitized after every use; and hand sanitizer has been made readily available, among other things.

Hillmer recognized many local governments issued their own versions of a stay-at-home order, and she urged restaurant owners to regularly check with their county and municipality to make sure they’re following the law.

She later told she expects there will always be outlier owners not practicing guidelines, as seen in some social media posts Wednesday night after the order lifted. But she says the vast majority of them “want to make sure their staff and customers are safe.”

“I would personally stay away from (restaurants not following guidelines) because I wouldn’t feel safe,” she said. “But just about every operator in the state, they want to do the right thing. The last thing they want to do is have anything trace back to their restaurant.”

Hillmer added tshe supports the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Evers administration’s stay-at-home order and “put it in the hands of operators and consumers.”

She said she would support any restaurant opening now with proper safety guidelines, and she would also support any owners who want to remain closed a little while longer out of caution.

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— With Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide “Safer at Home” order off the table, it now rests with counties and municipalities to make public health decisions to control the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease, said yesterday in a DHS briefing that local public health control is “not necessarily a weakness or a bad thing.” 

Wisconsin’s former statewide response implementation relied on local public health, he said, but the limitation of a local public health response is that resources fall short. 

“We needed to have a statewide response to get on top of [COVID-19] and try to build the next generation public health system,” said Westergaard, arguing state resources are needed to make the response uniform, and “give all of us time to build resources we need locally.”

Meanwhile, Evers is encouraging Wisconsinite to “stay the course” with staying at home.

“Just because Republicans said it can be a free-for-all, that doesn’t mean we have to throw that good judgement out the window,” he said. “The Supreme Court may have changed the rules for how we operate, but it sure as heck didn’t change the rules of how the virus operates.”

And DHS Secretary Andrea Palm is urging high-risk contact businesses such as salons, bars and restaurants to not open adding that “it would not be safe practice.”

However, if businesses chose to open, Palm asks that they use guidelines published by the Wisconsin Economic and Development Corporation. But she said DHS is continuing to ramp up contact tracers and community testing sites in case a surge results from ending “Safer at Home.”

— DHS reports the state’s COVID-19 death toll at 434 — up 13 from the previous count. 

The state’s number of confirmed cases rose 373 since Wednesday, bringing the cumulative confirmed case count to 11,275. 

An estimated 51 percent have recovered from COVID-19, while 4 percent of patients have died. Forty-five percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

DHS’s hospital dashboard also reports 351 COVID patients in hospitals statewide, above the 335 patient average for the month of May, and about 16 patients above last Thursday’s number of 335 patients. 

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 17 percent were hospitalized and 4 percent received intensive care, according to DHS.

Counties reporting deaths include Milwaukee (242), Waukesha (23), Dane (22), Brown (21), Kenosha (17), Racine (17), Rock (14), Walworth (11), Ozaukee (10), Grant (10), Clark (4), Outagamie (4) and Washington (4). 

Door, Fond du Lac, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report three deaths each.

Jefferson, Marinette, and Richland counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Dodge, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Seventy of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have confirmed cases. Burnett and Pepin counties are reporting cases for the first time. 

— Long-term care facilities in the state are reporting 186 deaths due to COVID-19, making up 43 percent of total deaths in Wisconsin due to the virus. 

These include nursing homes and assisted living facilities, such as community-based residential facilities and residential care apartment complexes. Group housing facilities including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, dormitories and group homes have identified 16 COVID-19 deaths, or 4 percent of the state’s total. 

One hundred and eight of the state’s COVID-19 deaths were not linked to group housing facilities, but more than a third of virus deaths in Wisconsin — or 124 deaths — are categorized as “unknown,” meaning they may or may not have occurred at these facilities. 

According to DHS, the unknown category exists because relevant information has only been collected since April 8. 

Almost 19 percent of confirmed COVID-19 patients who have died in the state were over 90 years old, while another 24 percent were between 80 and 89 years old. Another 29 percent were between 70 and 79, and 15 percent were between 60 and 69.

Patients over the age of 60 account for about 26 percent of confirmed cases, 59 percent of hospitalizations, 61 percent of intensive care patients and 87 percent of deaths.

In Wisconsin, women make up 50 percent of the confirmed cases and account for 43 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, men make up 50 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 57 percent of deaths.

Health care workers account for 12 percent of confirmed cases.

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— Nursing homes in the state likely won’t be changing their operations in response to the Supreme Court striking down Evers’ stay-at-home order, according to LeadingAge Wisconsin CEO John Sauer. 

‘We have to say what lifting the order doesn’t do,” Sauer told “For nursing facilities, it doesn’t change the manner in which nursing homes are required to screen for the virus, and test for the virus. And it doesn’t change their visitation policies.” 

He explained that skilled nursing facilities have been following the guidance of federal agencies including CDC on eliminating communal dining and other group activities. LeadingAge Wisconsin is a nonprofit long-term care group whose members operate 500 facilities in the state.

“So for nursing facilities, for how we operate today, lifting the order is not going to immediately change nursing home policies,” he said, adding that many assisted living facilities are also following the guidance for nursing homes from federal regulators. 

But he noted that many facilities around the country have seen infections after visitors or staff members were there but were later found to have COVID-19, emphasizing the “insidious” nature of the virus. 

“I think lifting the order, and the fact that people in the general public may be more able to freely move about the community raises some concerns about whether or not people coming into our facilities may be carrying the virus,” Sauer said. 

In the wake of the stay-at-home order being struck down, he argues that testing initiatives are all the more important to reducing the spread of the disease, and said that effort “needs to go on for the foreseeable future.” 

Still, operators of both nursing homes and assisted living sites are exploring ways to accommodate visitors, as social interaction plays an important role in quality of life and quality of care, Sauer said. 

“People are looking at innovative ways to allow visitations to occur, and some of those options are in the exploratory phase,” he said. “But it’s not prudent right now for congregate settings serving older adults to open their doors completely for visitors and the general public to enter.” 

According to the latest count from DHS, 186 of the state’s 434 total deaths from COVID-19 occurred in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

See an earlier story on long-term care’s response to COVID-19: 

— Jaimie Sherling’s life was forever changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2018. Just two months later she underwent a double mastectomy, and for the following 15 months she endured a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

By September 2019, Sherling was cancer-free and cleared to resume life as normal. However, life as a survivor, she found, was anything but normal. As part of that journey, she started a line of clothing for people like her.

After her double mastectomy, Sherling chose to forgo reconstructive surgery, which presented the new challenge of navigating life with a changed body. At first, Sherling found a solution in prosthetics, silicone disks that are inserted in bras to emulate breasts. After several months of use, however, Sherling decided to stop wearing the inserts.

“They’re not exactly comfortable,” Sherling said. “So [I thought] — why would I wear this if I don’t have to?”

But without prosthetics, Sherling’s clothes didn’t fit anymore. V-neck shirts were too low, form-fitting clothing laid differently, and other shirts simply didn’t fit. When Sherling started shopping for new clothes, she found it nearly impossible to find flattering feminine clothing that fit her body type.

“It was a very painstaking process,” Sherling said. “I might be in a dressing room for two hours with stacks and stacks of clothes and find three things that work — maybe.”

In her research, Sherling couldn’t find a single line of clothing that caters specifically to women without breasts. With thousands of women undergoing double mastectomies every year, Sherling knew that many women were likely in the same situation. And so, after floating the idea to a few breast cancer survivor networking groups, Sherling decided to start her own line of clothing — one specifically made for survivors such as herself. 

See the full story at 


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– Business owners, residents react after state Supreme Court strikes down stay-at-home order

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– State says 12 Milwaukee County nursing homes, and 6 in Waukesha County, are under COVID-19 investigation


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– Tony Evers, GOP lawmakers begin conversations on new, more lenient COVID-19 rules

– Wisconsin governor warns of ‘massive confusion’ after ruling


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