(AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday extended Wisconsin's stay-at-home order for another month, keeping nonessential businesses closed until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Schools will be closed the remainder of the academic year under the safer-at-home order that will be in effect until May 26. Golf courses will be allowed to re-open, but club houses and pro shops will remain closed.
News of the extension comes amid growing criticism from conservatives who are pushing Evers and some other governors to loosen restrictions. Opponents of the order planned a rally at the state Capitol on April 24, the end date of the original order.
Evers issued the original order on March 25 but has said in recent days that he has made clear that an extension was likely.
"A few weeks ago, we had a pretty grim outlook for what COVID-19 could mean for our state, but because of the efforts of all of you, Safer at Home is working," Evers said in a statement. "That said, we aren't out of the woods just yet."
Before the order can be lifted, there needs to be more testing and other public health measures in place, said state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm.
"These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus," she said. "If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again."
Evers also loosened restrictions on nonessential businesses, allowing them to make deliveries and have curbside pickup available. That includes arts and crafts stores making material available to produce face masks and other personal protective equipment. Lawn care services are allowed, as long as the work is done by just one person.
Evers said people are strongly encouraged to stay close to home, not travel to cabins or second homes, and not travel out of state.
While Evers extended the order, pressure is building among some to reopen shuttered businesses. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that as of Thursday more than 50 other business associations, local chambers of commerce and nearly 2,000 citizens and businesses signed a letter calling on Evers to let businesses reopen on April 24.
According to a Facebook event page for organizers of the Wisconsin Freedom Rally, more than 750 people said as of Thursday afternoon that they planned to attend next week. Organizers said "we will be practicing our constitutional right to assemble and occupy the State Capitol Grounds."
Thousands rallied on Wednesday in Michigan and Oklahoma. In Michigan, some wore masks and carried rifles, but many unmasked people defied stay-at-home orders and jammed nearly shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the Capitol building in Lansing. In Oklahoma, cars plastered with protest signs drove past the Statehouse in Oklahoma City: "All jobs are essential," read one sign on the back of a pickup truck.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death
As of Wednesday, there were 182 deaths from COVID-19 in Wisconsin and more than 3,700 confirmed cases, although health officials have said that represents only a fraction of the people who are actually infected.
The extension comes after Evers told President Donald Trump in a letter mailed Wednesday that Wisconsin faces more than $2 billion in revenue losses due to skyrocketing unemployment and other hits to the economy caused by the coronavirus,
Evers signed the letter along with the governors of Michigan and Pennsylvania, all Democrats. They asked Trump to work with Congress to send $500 billion to states and local governments facing budget shortfalls.
Evers told Trump that the state's unemployment rate sits at about 15% and Wisconsin is expected to lose more than $2 billion in tax collections over the next year.
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