Wisconsin bars reopen after court throws out stay-at-home order -- some with new rules

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned the state's stay-at-home order, ruling it "unlawful" and "unenforceable." Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tells CNN's Don Lemon that this will put Wisconsin "into chaos."

Posted: May 14, 2020 4:21 PM
Updated: May 14, 2020 4:21 PM

After weeks at home, some Wisconsin residents wasted no time in visiting local bars Wednesday night, shortly after the state's Supreme Court overturned the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

"First thought, we flipped it right into the parking lot," Matt Griffin, a customer at The Buzzard's Nest in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb, told CNN affiliate WTMJ. "And yeah, we've got to get in and have a first drink."

Katie Koutski, a customer at the nearby Limanski's Pub, was just glad to relax with her friends and blow off some steam.

"I have a toddler at home and I'm a full-time nurse," she told WTMJ, "so it's been very stressful and hard to not be able to go out and be with my friends and family at the bars."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the order in a 4-3 decision Wednesday, ruling Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration overstepped its authority when the state Department of Health Services extended the so-called "Safer at Home" order to May 26.

"When you have more people in a small space -- I don't care if it's bars, restaurants or your home -- you're going to be able to spread the virus," Evers told CNN's Don Lemon Wednesday night.

"Now we have no plan and no protections for the people of Wisconsin," he said.

As of Wednesday, Wisconsin had more than 10,902 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 421 deaths, according to the state's Department of Health Services.

Bar owners took some precautions ...

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the state trade association for alcohol retailers, told businesses they could reopen immediately. It urged them to follow guidelines from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which advise businesses to have employees wear masks and frequently sanitize high-contact surfaces, among other steps.

Over the course of the night, seven customers showed up at BK's Bar in Shullsburg, Abby Gilbertson-Cottington, who owns the bar with her husband, told CNN. Most patrons stayed at least 6 feet apart, except for one couple who she believed may have been married.

"I asked if they wanted their beer opened, (but) only one person asked to open their own," Gilbertson-Cottington said. They took out half the bar stools, she said, and plan to frequently clean. The bar also has a temperature gun to check patrons for fever.

"Obviously, if someone is coughing we'll ask them to leave," Gilberston-Cottington added, "but everyone was healthy last night."

Still, not every guideline is realistic. While she wore a mask, Gilberston-Cottington said, "Gloves are not practical when opening beer bottles."

The owner of Limanski's Pub, Kathy Goedde, was watching the news when she saw the order was overturned. "I was pretty happy about that," she told WTMJ. She's limiting capacity to a third of what the bar could hold and reminding patrons to keep social distance, WTMJ reported.

Customers were greeted at the door with a sign that asked them to sanitize their hands upon entry, and to stay two bar stools apart, unless they're from the same household, the station reported.

Regardless, Koutski said she wasn't concerned about contracting the virus in the bar.

"I don't think the risk presents any higher than me going to a grocery store or me being out in the community in any other sort of way," she told WTMJ.

Asked if she would make her patrons wear masks, Gilbertson-Cottington told CNN, "How can you wear a mask and drink?"

Other states' stay-home orders have faced their own legal challenges. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a challenge by a statehouse candidate and local businesses to Gov. Tom Wolf's order last month. In Michigan, the state House and Senate sued Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week, arguing her order, extended to May 15, was unconstitutional.

... But not everyone felt comfortable opening

Shutting down any business presents a financial hardship. BK's Bar has only been open for two and a half years, Gilberston-Cottington told CNN, and business was just picking up when the shutdown happened.

"We had enough money to be closed for a few more months," she said, "but that's not the point of owning a bar."

They got a warning from authorities on day three of the shutdown, when it was just Gilbertson-Cottington, her husband and his nephew in the bar, she said. Two weeks ago, they got a ticket for $451 after posting a photo on Facebook of five people in the bar.

"It was nice tonight to have the door open and people could walk right in again. It was beginning to feel like a speakeasy," she said.

But not every bar was comfortable reopening based on the Supreme Court's ruling.

This is It!, an LGBTQ+ bar in Milwaukee, posted a note on its Facebook page telling customers it wasn't ready to reopen just yet.

"We, like you, want life to return to normal, but we will not force any actions or decisions that compromise health and safety," the post said. "Our decision to reopen, when it is made, will be made rationally and under the guiding authority and scientific prowess of local Health and Government bodies."

George Schneider, the bar's majority owner, told CNN that he, of course, wants to reopen. But he also wants to keep his staff and customers safe.

"The Wisconsin Supreme Court may be a legal authority, but is not a public health authority," Schneider said. "You wouldn't take medical advice from a butcher, right? You'd go to your doctor."

Schneider said his late business partner lost good friends and customers during the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The community and the bar have been through hard times, Schneider said, and he expects they will overcome.

"But just like during the HIV and AIDS crisis, we need to be diligent and proactive and taking care of others' safety and health," Schneider said, "and make informed decisions, not knee-jerk reactions because we feel inconvenienced by something out of our control."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48626

Reported Deaths: 2717
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11723689
Lake5212244
Elkhart332051
Allen2815132
St. Joseph198168
Cass16399
Hamilton1596101
Hendricks1414100
Johnson1288117
Porter73637
Tippecanoe7279
Madison66364
Clark66044
Bartholomew58944
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Vanderburgh5706
Kosciusko5564
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Harrison21622
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Miami1842
Jennings17612
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
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Wayne1426
Orange13523
Perry1359
Steuben1302
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Newton9910
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Wells751
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Brown391
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland270
Martin230
Parke230
Ohio170
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 58904

Reported Deaths: 2970
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10587431
Cuyahoga8048379
Hamilton6158204
Lucas2788303
Marion273439
Pickaway220141
Summit2175207
Montgomery213431
Mahoning1849238
Butler163747
Columbiana130660
Stark1133113
Lorain105167
Trumbull97473
Warren88124
Clark7729
Delaware58815
Fairfield58516
Tuscarawas56810
Belmont55422
Medina53632
Lake50819
Licking49612
Miami47231
Portage44959
Ashtabula43644
Wood43651
Clermont4226
Geauga40843
Wayne36352
Richland3475
Allen32341
Mercer2879
Greene2769
Darke25326
Erie24622
Holmes2393
Huron2232
Madison1999
Ottawa15024
Sandusky13714
Crawford1365
Washington13520
Ross1303
Putnam12915
Coshocton1272
Hardin12312
Morrow1171
Auglaize1074
Jefferson912
Monroe8917
Union891
Muskingum861
Hancock791
Hocking788
Preble781
Guernsey743
Lawrence720
Williams722
Shelby694
Clinton680
Logan641
Athens631
Fulton620
Ashland601
Carroll593
Wyandot595
Brown581
Knox521
Defiance513
Fayette460
Highland451
Scioto450
Champaign411
Van Wert380
Perry351
Seneca342
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