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Tony Evers unveils COVID-19 guidelines for businesses; official reopening of economy remains uncertain
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Tony Evers unveils COVID-19 guidelines for businesses; official reopening of economy remains uncertain

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Tony Evers to order nonessential businesses to close

A rider waits for a bus recently along a shuttered State Street in Madison.

Gov. Tony Evers on Friday offered guidance for businesses to safely reopen once the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wane in the state.

The series of publications — developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the state departments of Health Services; Tourism; and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection — detail best practices and safety tips for businesses to follow when they begin to reopen.

“We’re all in this fight together, folks, and as we continue to wage an all-out war on the virus, we’re also planning for the future,” Evers said on a media call with reporters. “As we continue to turn the dial, businesses need to know how to re-engage safely so that employees and customers can feel confident as they return.”

Guides are available on the WEDC website and include specific recommendations for various sectors and businesses, including gyms and fitness centers, hair and nail salons and hotels and lodging.

While not mandates, the general advice for businesses includes making sure employees who are sick don’t come to work, limiting business travel, allowing employees to work from home where possible and making sure employees have access to sanitizers and personal protective equipment.

“What these guides really aim to do is provide actionable advice for businesses, especially small businesses, as they begin the road back to reopening,” WEDC Secretary and CEO Melissa Hughes said in a statement. “The guides answer basic questions, such as how to handle transactions at cash registers, what to do about merchandise that’s been handled by customers, and how to set up an office using social distancing strategies.”

Testing, tracing

While the guides provide businesses with advice to follow once they begin to return to somewhat normal business operations, Evers and DHS officials have maintained that Wisconsin will not begin to “turn the dial” on reopening the economy until certain thresholds are met for testing and the state has more contact tracing capacity. Officials also say the state needs to see a 14-day downward trend in positive cases of the respiratory disease.

Evers said it’s difficult to set a specific date to reopen the economy. Under the “Badger Bounce Back” plan, businesses would begin to reopen in phases as certain thresholds are met.

“I know it would be great to have a date, but I can’t imagine it being any better by having set a date and then saying, ‘Sorry about that, we can’t do that,’” Evers said.

Is it time?

However, an analysis of DHS data by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce argues the state has already met the necessary criteria to begin reopening.

“It couldn’t be any clearer. The governor’s own data and metrics show it is time to reopen the economy,” WMC president and CEO Kurt Bauer said in a statement. “WMC and the business community call on Gov. Evers to take the next steps to get people back to work. The time is overdue to rescind the Safer at Home order and work with Wisconsin’s business community on a responsible and safe opening of the economy.”

WMC has proposed its own plan for reopening the economy, which would effectively reopen all businesses in the state — with varying regulations based on risk.

Evers has said the WMC plan has “good pieces” but lacks metrics for determining when it’s safe to take the next steps.

A GOP-led lawsuit in the state Supreme Court could eliminate Evers’ order entirely. The order currently is slated to remain in effect until May 26.

Masks, closures and distancing: A look at how COVID-19 is affecting Wisconsin

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