The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned statewide Safer At Home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated that all future statewide restrictions must be approved by the Legislature’s rule-making committee before they could be implemented.

Even before the decision was announced last Wednesday, Vilas County officials had made a recommendation for the reopening of businesses. 

The Vilas recommendation was signed by county board Chairman Ronald DeBruyne and Administrative Coordinator and County Clerk David Alleman.

The letter read:?“Vilas County government supports the reopening of all Vilas County businesses including bars, restaurants and other food and beverage establishments, pursuant to and in compliance with the ‘reopen guidelines’ set by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. These guidelines are available at wedc.org/reopen-guidelines/.”

In addition, Oneida County leaders sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers with two major purposes: to promote the concept that any reopening plan should consider regional/local differences; and to demonstrate Oneida County is ready to strategically and carefully start the reopening process. The letter was sent May 11 and signed by county board Chairman David Hintz and public health Director Linda Conlon.

In a statement released by the Vilas County Public Health Department, officials recommend that all people continue to follow public health best practice guidance including: social distancing, avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, frequent and thorough hand washing, staying home when ill, covering coughs, and wearing a face covering/mask when out in public. 

“Those who are older than age 65, live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, or have an underlying health condition should continue to stay home and take personal measures to stay safe.

Businesses should follow the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) guidance that is posted at wedc.org/reopen-guidelines to keep staff and patrons healthy. 



Court ruling

The state Supreme Court ruled to strike down the Safer At Home orders 4-3, with conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn dissenting.

The legal challenge was brought against Andrea Palm, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services,  by Republican state lawmakers, who have been pushing to relax restrictions and take a more regional approach for Safer At Home orders.

According to the ruling, Palm broke state law when she issued an April 16 Safer At Home order that prohibited Wisconsin residents from leaving their homes unless it was essential. That order was ruled to be “unlawful, invalid and unenforceable.”

The restrictions were set to expire May 26, the day after Memorial Day, and followed the state’s original Safer At Home orders implemented in March.

As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his administration will be limited in their power to issue further mandates since any future orders will need to be approved by the conservative majority state Legislature.

The Republican lawmakers who filed the legal challenge asked the court for a six-day stay, which would have allowed for negotiations on the Safer At Home orders, but the court struck that request down.



Businesses open

Safety continues to be on everyone’s minds as doors are opened and tourists leave their homes and head north. 

Katie Hayes, president of Eagle River Business Association and owner of Arrow Gift Shop in Eagle River, said she is personally feeling nervous about allowing the public back in the store but will do what is recommended to be safe, including limiting the number of shoppers in the building to five for the time being, and continuing a curbside pickup option for shoppers.  

“We are doing extra cleaning, wearing masks, creating one-way aisles, maintaining social distancing and eliminating some displays to make the store more open,” Hayes said.

Less than a block away, Glik’s also is open and allowing a limit of 10 people into the building at a time. Staff member Laura Godfrey said that they are encouraging social distancing of 6 feet of distance between shoppers, as well as wiping down the counters with sanitizer after each transaction. Masks, although not required, are permitted to be worn by shoppers.

“Most of who we see in the store are excited to be out,” Godfrey said. For those who are less enthusiastic about heading out, online shopping and curbside pickup also are still available.

While Hayes doesn’t expect the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be quite the usual boon to local businesses that it has been in years past, her staff is anxious to get back to work, although she wouldn’t hold any reservations about coming back against them. Godfrey added that, until customer limits have been lifted, they too are working with a decreased number of staff.

According to Hayes, the downtown Memorial Day craft show and entertainment which was canceled before the ruling was lifted will not be held, but business owners are still welcome to place sale items outside on sidewalks for shoppers to peruse.