Small retailers open up with restrictions under new state order

By: - May 11, 2020 4:22 pm
A collection of open signs in different languages

Open by Carla Kis-Schuller CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Small retailers are getting the go-ahead to reopen for in-person shopping, so long as they impose limits of five customers at a time and require people to follow physical distancing guidelines, state officials announced Monday.

The newest executive order represents “another turn of the dial” on the Safer at Home order imposed March 25 and extended through Memorial Day to curb the spread of the virus responsible for the illness known as COVID-19, said Gov. Tony Evers. The extension is currently before the state Supreme Court after the Republican leaders of the state Assembly and the state Senate sued to overturn it.

The order applies to stand-alone and strip-mall retailers. About 14,000 businesses around the state will be able to reopen under the new order, Evers said at a media briefing Monday afternoon held by the Department of Health Services (DHS). 

Drive-in theaters will also be allowed to operate with restrictions under the new executive order. The website lists eight currently operating drive-in theaters in the state. 

Stores located inside shopping malls are not included in the order. Evers said those locations offered “more opportunities for larger groups to gather” and in closer proximity to each other, heightening the risk of spreading the virus.

“Both customers and workers need to be confident in their safety, so we need everyone to be diligent in following best safety practices so we can continue to move our state forward while keeping our neighbors, families, and communities safe and healthy,” Evers stated.


Evers and DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the latest step was made possible by the state’s continued expansion of testing and contact tracing, along with the success at achieving other criteria such as hospitals being able to treat COVID-19 patients and other kinds of illnesses without being in crisis mode.

The new order follows the release on Friday of new guidelines tailored to specific kinds of businesses as well as businesses in general to observe as they plan for eventual reopening under the state’s Badger Bounce Bank plan. The guidelines are hosted at the website of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

The executive order takes effect as a statewide Health Emergency declared on March 12 expires. That emergency, separate from the Safer at Home order, could only have been extended by action of the state Legislature, which has met only once in that time.

Ryan Nilsestuen, chief legal counsel for the governor’s office, said Monday that with the expiration of the March 12 emergency, various provisional orders associated with it also expire, such as orders pertaining to relaxed licensing restrictions. In addition, some of the temporary legal changes that were part of the COVID-19 emergency relief package that the Legislature passed and Evers signed in April are also tied to the March 12 emergency order, expiring in 30 or 60 days after it does.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.