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Evers loosens restrictions, allowing more businesses to open (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dog groomers, upholsterers, lawnmower repair shops and other nonessential businesses that able to offer contact-less services can reopen this week, the latest loosening of Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tony Evers announced on Monday.

Evers’ stay-at-home order runs until May 26 and has kept most nonessential businesses closed, leading to skyrocketing unemployment. Evers has been pressured by Republicans and the state chamber of commerce to move more quickly to allow businesses to reopen.

Under the latest order, starting Wednesday outdoor recreational businesses renting out boats, kayaks and other recreational vehicles, can also reopen. So too can self-service or automatic car washes. They all must operate free from contact with customers.

“This order means that every business across our state can do things like deliveries, mailings, curbside pickup and drop-off, and it’s an important step in making sure that while folks are staying safer at home, they can also continue to support small businesses across our state,” Evers said.

Staff must be limited to one person per room or confined space at a time. Payment must be made online or by phone, and drop-offs and pickups must be scheduled ahead of time. Customers are not allowed inside business premises.

Evers described it as a “turn of the dial” to reopen the state, starting with businesses that require limited interaction between customers and employees.

“We are able to do this in a way that’s safe,” he said. “We’re headed in the right direction and I’m confident that we will continue to dial it down.”

Hair salons and barbers remain closed because of the necessary close contact between employee and customer, Evers’ legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen said.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court was meanwhile accepting arguments from Evers in defense of his stay-at-home order that’s scheduled to run through May 26. Republican legislative leaders are asking the court to block it and force Evers to work with them on a new approach. Despite polls showing widespread support for such orders nationwide, Wisconsin Republicans have been critical.

“We may all be in this together, but we don’t need to cripple all of us for the pandemic located in a few counties,” said Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, warning Wisconsin could be devastated by Evers’ pandemic response.

Evers repeated that his decisions are driven by science and knowledge of what most likely can be safely achieved without causing a spike in infections that would overwhelm the state’s medical providers. To date, there have been 281 deaths and more than 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wisconsin.

Evers’ plan for a phased reopening of Wisconsin mirrors federal guidelines in requiring 14 days of decline in positive cases of COVID-19 as a percentage of total tests, along with an increase in testing, contact tracing and safety equipment for health care workers.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, has proposed its own reopening plan that would allow all business to resume May 4.

Meanwhile, a cluster of cases led to the closure of the JBS Packerland meatpacking plant in Brown County on Sunday. Brown County Health Department spokeswoman Claire Paprocki said Monday that 255 employees at the JBS plant had tested positive for COVID-19. There were also 130 confirmed cases among workers at the American Foods Group plant in Green Bay and another 17 employees of sausage maker Salm Partners in Denmark, about 20 miles away. Those plants remained open.

JBS previously closed plants in Souderton, Pennsylvania; Greeley, Colorado; and Worthington, Minnesota. The first two plants have since reopened, but concerns about meat shortages and price increases persist.

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