WED AM News: Tourism destinations closing due to coronavirus outbreak; Evers calls for repeal of unemployment benefits delay

— Wisconsin tourism destinations are closing as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which also could interrupt the flow of student workers from overseas.

“Our number one priority is the safety of visitors and employees,” said Stephanie Klett, the former state tourism secretary and president and CEO of Visit Lake Geneva. “We are working with our member businesses to reiterate guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.”

Lake Geneva resorts such as Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva, Grand Geneva Resort and Spa and The Abbey Resort said that they will remain open for business while there are no travel restrictions to Wisconsin and no confirmed cases in Walworth County. But resort amenities are limited to room reservations and carry out services from restaurants, according to the front desks. 

In 2018, tourism in Wisconsin had a $21.6 billion impact on the state’s economy and supported 199,073 jobs, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. The tourism economy generated $1.2 billion in federal taxes, and without tourism, each Wisconsin household would pay an additional $680 to maintain existing services.

Klett told that Visit Lake Geneva is tracking businesses that are putting “extra stringent” precautions in place and providing adjusted cancellation policies.

“While we can’t speculate on the potential effect on leisure and business travel to the area, what I can tell you is that this is a resilient community that’s been in the tourism business for generations and a joint effort toward tourism recovery is on our radar,” she said.

Other areas of the state also are getting hit. Four waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells announced their closures earlier this week. And the Wisconsin Historical Society has closed to the public as well as other historic sites and museums until at least April 11. The Department of Natural Resources’ service centers have closed but state parks remain open. 

See more: 

— To help workers impacted by the growing coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers called on lawmakers to immediately repeal a one-week delay in collecting unemployment benefits — something Republicans approved nearly a decade ago.

Evers also ordered bars and restaurants to be closed to in-house patrons as of 5 p.m. yesterday as part of the state’s escalating response to the outbreak. He also issued a new ban on gatherings of 10 or more people after prohibiting groups of 50 or more the previous day. 

The Tavern League knocked the order closing bars, saying there would be large swaths of noncompliance on Tuesday because the directive came so late. And some small restaurant chains quickly announced layoffs.

The orders came as Health Services Secretary Adrea Palm said there is now evidence of community spread in Dane, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties. That means some of those testing positive haven’t had any exposure to a known case or traveled somewhere where someone has tested positive.

She also said the state will begin prioritizing testing because the influx in demand has led to a shortage of the ingredients needed to complete them.

The top priority for testing will be those who are critically ill and receiving intensive care or are hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms and exposure to a confirmed case.

The second tier will be those who are hospitalized or health care workers with an unexplained fever or signs of a lower respiratory tract illness.

Tests for those who don’t meet those criteria will result in longer waits for results.

Palm acknowledged the steps to limit social interactions are “unprecedented.”

“But we need to do this to help limit the spread of COVID-19,” she said on a conference call.

— A Tavern League of Wisconsin lobbyist called Evers’ move to close bars and restaurants to in-house patrons “stunning and inexplicable” and predicted “complete noncompliance.” 

Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger said he was originally told by Evers’ staff late yesterday morning the order wouldn’t go into effect until 5 p.m. today. Stenger said he passed that advice on to his members preparing for St. Patrick’s Day festivities less than an hour before the order came down.

“There’s a bigger picture here, and this is for the good of society and we understand that,” he said. “But if people think taverns are going to be closed today at 5 p.m., they aren’t, and not because we are defying orders, but because there’s no way we can do it.”

Stenger added that Tavern League members would be able to comply with the order by today. 

An Evers spokeswoman in an email told “this is a rapidly evolving public health crisis and we need everyone to do their part to keep people safe.”

Wisconsin Restaurant Association President Kristine Hillmer declined to comment.

The order makes exceptions for mass transit, educational institutions being used for non-instructional purposes, childcare locations, hotels and motels, government and commercial buildings, food pantries, shelters, gas stations and health care facilities, among others.

See the release:

See the order:

— Seventy-two people in Wisconsin have now tested positive for coronavirus and 1,038 people tested negative, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Health Services.

— At a recent board meeting of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Medical College of Wisconsin’s president and CEO warned the state’s health system could be overwhelmed by rising coronavirus numbers. 

Dr. John Raymond addressed 70 business executives during the board meeting Monday, which was held online for the first time in MMAC’s history. He said if 5 percent of the state’s residents are infected, that would mean 300,000 cases in Wisconsin. And that’s a conservative estimate, he noted. 

If around 20 percent of those people require hospitalization, that would result in 60,000 patients flooding Wisconsin’s health care system. Raymond noted Wisconsin has around 12,300 hospital beds and between 3,000 and 4,000 are available on any given day. 

“The potential for our health care system to get overwhelmed is real, and it is imminent,” said Tim Sheehy, president of MMAC, in an email message. “To give our doctors and nurses a fighting chance, we need to slow this down.” 

In his message, Sheehy addressed the “difficult choice” of postponing events and challenges of working remotely, noting many member companies will be affected. 

“These decisions will hurt a lot of our businesses,” he said. “We do not have all the answers on what it will take to support affected industries and their employees. But the best response for the health and wealth of our community is the short term pain, for the long term gain.” 

— Eleven Milwaukee County municipalities hclosed bars and restaurants to in-house patrons hours ahead of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities that typically pack customers into those establishments.

The order allows restaurants with take-out and delivery options to continue those services while their dining rooms are temporarily closed. Liquor, beer and wine sales also will be carry-out and delivery only in the communities impacted by the order.

The move goes further than the order Gov. Tony Evers issued banning gatherings of 50 or more people. The guv’s directive requires bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent of capacity or a maximum of 50 people, whichever is less. The order also directs restaurants and bars to keep at least 6 feet between tables, bar stools and ordering counters.

The Milwaukee County communities joining in the order to close bars are: Milwaukee, South Milwaukee, St. Francis, Bayside, Brown Deer, Cudahy, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

They 11 said in a statement, “We are in unprecedented times, and that calls for unprecedented actions.”

Meanwhile, Milwaukee County has closed all golf courses and dog parks while asking those using the County Transit System to limit non-essential bus travel and maintain extra space between them and other riders when they must use the system.

See the release:

— The largest year-over-year February rent increase among Wisconsin cities was seen in West Allis, according to the latest report from RentCafe. 

Monthly rent in West Allis increased 9.2 percent since the previous February, reaching $1,029. The second largest increase by percentage was in Middleton, where rent increased 5.6 percent over the year to reach $1,136. 

In contrast, Greenfield rents increased just 0.1 percent over the year, reaching $1,042. 

Meanwhile, rent prices in Racine increased 4 percent over the year to reach $835. It’s the only city on the list with monthly rent below $1,000. 

The most expensive city to rent an apartment in the state is Brookfield, which increased 2.7 percent over the year to reach $1,476. The second highest rent prices are in Wauwatosa, which rose 0.7 percent to reach $1,349. 

See the full report: 


# Companies search for balance to do business while fighting coronavirus

# COVID-19 disrupts business as usual for major Milwaukee employers

# Pandemic prompts hospitals to postpone some surgeries

# Bars and restaurants to close, gatherings of more than 10 people banned



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– Administration announces 90-day delay for many tax payments


– UW-Madison among nation’s top business schools in U.S. News grad school rankings

– TDS offering free temporary broadband to students

– ‘It feels so final’: UW extends online coursework through spring, announces leave policy


– Marcus to announce shutdown of theaters across the country


– Wisconsin bans crowds of 10 or larger; order bars and restaurants closed


– State responds to increased demand for COVID-19 testing


– Wisconsin insurers waive members’ coronavirus testing costs


– Amazon to hire 100,000 more workers, including hundreds in Wisconsin, amid COVID-19 pandemic


– DNC Host Committee proceeds with webinars for potential vendors

– Wisconsin lawmakers, governor considering legislative action in response to COVID-19 pandemic


– Evers bans gatherings of 10 or more

– Late DNC bar-time bill on hold as Wisconsin Senate postpones session

– Gov. Tony Evers orders bars, restaurants to be closed across Wisconsin for in-house dining


– Marcus Theatres to close all of its theaters Tuesday evening

– Macy’s, Nordstrom, Lands’ End close stores; Kohl’s trims hours due to COVID-19


– Ryder Cup organizers deny report saying event at Whistling Straits expected to be postponed


– Southwest Airlines cuts capacity as cancellations exceed bookings amid coronavirus crisis

– Governor directs WisDOT to issue relief effort supply permits


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

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BBB: What to Do if an Event is Canceled by a Pandemic

Verlo: Closing corporate-owned stores because of coronavirus