Several Wisconsin bars on Wednesday opened their doors and welcomed customers for the first time in months after the state's Supreme Court sided with Republican legislators and struck down the extension of Gov. Tony Evers's (D) stay-at-home order.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin, a trade association that represents bars in the state, announced after the ruling that businesses "can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!"
Photos and videos showed groups of patrons dining in bars across the state. Multiple bars opened in the Green Bay area and hosted more than a dozen people, according to USA Today. One video shared from Nick's, a bar in Platteville, Wis., showed a number of individuals that appeared crowded into the location.
45 minutes after the bars open in Wisconsin.... pic.twitter.com/xqaDlS6ajP— Nick's bar (@nicksonsec) May 14, 2020
The Tavern League encouraged bar owners to follow guidelines from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation while reopening. Among other things, the advisory asked that employees wear face masks and that restaurant capacity be reduced to ensure social distancing is being followed.
Peter Gruetzmacher, owner of Jake's Supper Club in Menomonie, told News 18, a local ABC affiliate, that he made sure staff had personal protective equipment before reopening. He said that his business saw about 20 people arrive within five minutes of announcing the reopening and that he was working to maintain social distancing.
Chad Arndt, the owner of the Iron Hog Saloon in Port Washington, told WISN that he opened his doors Wednesday because he had to "look out for my business." The news network noted that they witnessed little social distancing while they were there.
As the coronavirus began to spread throughout the U.S., Evers issued a stay-at-home order in March that shuttered nonessential businesses and schools. He later extended the order to May 26, prompting Republican legislators to request that the Supreme Court block the extension.
The Supreme Court's conservative majority sided with the Republican legislators on Wednesday and directed Evers to work with the Republican-led state legislature to form an alternate plan. In its opinion, four conservative justices wrote that "in the case of a pandemic, which lasts month after month, the Governor cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely."
The decision meant that nonessential businesses could begin reopening immediately. However, schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
Some counties and cities responded to the opinion by announcing that their stay-at-home orders would remain in place. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) said that the court's decision would have no impact on the city's own restrictions.
"That order remains in effect, including all provisions on public gatherings, restaurants, and bar operations," Barrett said in a statement, noting that restaurants and bars could still offer delivery and curbside pick-up service.
Dane County, where Madison is located, Brown County and Kenosha County have also issued stay-at-home orders.
Wisconsin's public health department has reported more than 10,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 421 deaths from it.
Evers predicted on Wednesday night that the decision would lead to "spikes across the state" in confirmed coronavirus cases.
"There's no question about it. 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 said, arguing that the decision threw the state into "chaos."
Evers had already begun to lift some restrictions that were put in place at the outset of the outbreak.
Earlier this week, he announced retail shopping in standalone locations or strip malls could open allowing for five customers at a time. He said that the Supreme Court's decision was "frustrating" because the state was gradually meeting federal guidelines to reopen.