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

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway speaks to CNN's Wolf Blitzer about video showing some crowded Wisconsin bars after the state's Supreme Court overturned the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Posted: May 15, 2020 5:31 PM
Updated: May 15, 2020 5:31 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, 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.

"We cannot let the court's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsin's (citizens) have made over these past few months," Evers said at a news conference Thursday. "We need everybody to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home."

As of Thursday, Wisconsin had 11,275 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 434 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: 116549

Reported Deaths: 3577
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21322766
Lake10566323
Elkhart6623111
St. Joseph6488109
Allen6244203
Hamilton4893109
Vanderburgh365231
Hendricks2741123
Monroe259836
Tippecanoe248313
Johnson2328124
Clark222757
Porter215447
Delaware196062
Cass19509
Vigo183527
Madison167075
LaPorte144440
Floyd137063
Warrick133039
Howard131363
Kosciusko121817
Bartholomew117057
Marshall100724
Boone98146
Dubois97919
Hancock93043
Grant92534
Noble91532
Henry80326
Wayne76114
Jackson7589
Morgan72438
Shelby67429
Daviess67228
Dearborn66428
LaGrange63811
Clinton60214
Harrison58224
Putnam57912
Gibson5225
Knox5179
Lawrence51229
Montgomery51121
White48614
DeKalb48311
Decatur45839
Miami4363
Greene42635
Fayette42213
Jasper3962
Steuben3857
Scott37711
Sullivan33712
Posey3350
Jennings31412
Franklin30925
Clay3015
Ripley2988
Orange28824
Whitley2766
Carroll27513
Wabash2688
Adams2663
Washington2661
Starke2647
Wells2634
Jefferson2483
Spencer2463
Fulton2412
Huntington2363
Tipton22722
Perry21913
Randolph2167
Jay1850
Newton17311
Owen1691
Martin1660
Rush1554
Pike1511
Vermillion1300
Fountain1272
Blackford1193
Pulaski1131
Crawford1070
Brown1043
Parke1002
Benton870
Union790
Ohio787
Switzerland690
Warren401
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 150009

Reported Deaths: 4740
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26872607
Cuyahoga17437656
Hamilton13158315
Montgomery7809163
Lucas7303364
Butler6022111
Summit5304252
Marion309647
Warren308349
Mahoning3065281
Stark2872175
Pickaway265344
Lorain231186
Delaware225920
Fairfield210553
Columbiana193180
Licking192763
Trumbull1888132
Wood186672
Clark179940
Clermont172523
Lake162851
Medina146739
Greene145332
Allen143769
Miami143651
Portage113966
Mercer112218
Erie94347
Tuscarawas93120
Wayne93168
Richland88819
Ross88424
Madison82312
Darke79942
Belmont72127
Geauga72049
Hancock71010
Athens6782
Ashtabula65948
Lawrence65822
Shelby64510
Auglaize6079
Putnam60323
Sandusky57620
Huron5467
Union5382
Scioto5057
Seneca48014
Ottawa46830
Preble43515
Muskingum4103
Holmes3879
Jefferson3364
Henry31414
Logan3123
Champaign3073
Clinton30013
Perry2979
Defiance29211
Brown2882
Knox28415
Washington26023
Jackson2586
Morrow2582
Hardin25513
Fulton2441
Ashland2394
Crawford2386
Coshocton23411
Fayette2316
Highland2303
Wyandot21212
Williams2093
Gallia19113
Pike1910
Meigs17510
Guernsey1698
Hocking1649
Carroll1527
Adams1314
Van Wert1193
Monroe11018
Paulding1100
Harrison633
Morgan470
Vinton473
Noble300
Unassigned00
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