Here Are The New Rules In Your Northwoods County After Safer At Home Struck Down

May 14, 2020

On Wednesday night, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, halting his business closures and many other health precautions across the state.

The order was originally set to expire May 26, but it faced a successful lawsuit from Republican lawmakers.

Without a statewide order, counties, tribal nations, and municipalities appear to be able to issue their own orders extending Safer at Home, if they so choose.

For example, Dane, Brown, and Kenosha counties have issued such orders.

Below is an update on the status of counties and tribal nations in the Northwoods.

Oneida County: On Friday, the Oneida County Health Department set out specific guidance for the county in the absence of the statewide Safer at Home order. Oneida County’s new guidance seems to be the most specific and restrictive released so far in the Northwoods. Read the full details on the guidance here.

Vilas County: Vilas County Health Officer Laurel Dreger said she will not extend any new order to her county.

Vilas County Board Chair Ron De Bruyne said he didn’t think county action was necessary after the Supreme Court struck down the Safer at Home order.

“I don’t know that we need to legislate it. I would think that if a person hears the information, they would abide by it of their own accord. I don’t need to legislate the requirement,” De Bruyne said.

He said he “[doesn’t] really have a problem with businesses opening up,” as long as owners and customers are following health guidelines. That mirrors a Vilas County statement he signed Thursday just before the ruling was released.

Forest County: In a press release, the Forest County Health Department “asks community members to continue to practice physical distancing and good personal hygiene practices.”

Health Officer Jacee Shepard said she and other health departments in the northern region have been working together to determine what’s next.

Lincoln County: "The order is gone, the virus is not. In recent days, central Wisconsin infection numbers have begun to rise," wrote Lincoln County Health Officer Shelley Hersil in a press release urging people to continue smart health practices.

The release did not mention consideration of a Lincoln County-only order.

“It is our job to protect our community, provide services and take appropriate action as necessary,” said Hersil. “The Safer at Home order has been instrumental in flattening the curve. It has also provided us with time to prepare.” 

Langlade County: To date, Langlade County has not implemented a local order or ordinance in the absence of a statewide order. But the county’s corporation counsel said Monday the county’s health officer has the legal power to take some action, if she feels it warranted.

“Local health officers may do what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease [and] may forbid public gatherings when deemed necessary to control outbreaks or epidemics and shall advise the department of measures taken,” wrote Corporation Counsel Robin Stowe, referencing state statutes.

The county, however, may enact an ordinance through the traditional county board process, Stowe wrote.

“Langlade County plans to develop an ordinance, conduct a public hearing on a proposed ordinance and then submit the ordinance to the Langlade County Board for its consideration,” wrote Stowe.

In the absence of an enforceable order or ordinance, Langlade County continues to recommend the community follow Safer at Home guidelines.

Price County: Price County has not taken any further action on its own order and continues to review legal options.

"It is still a work in progress to wade through what can and cannot be done and steps that need to be in place," wrote Price County Health Officer Michelle Edwards in an email Monday morning.

Edwards previously said she wants any response to be fairly uniform across the area, not a county-by-county patchwork.

“The northern region health officers have kind of been working together. It would be better if we could do it as a regional [thing], at least," Edwards said.

On Wednesday night, the county issued a boilerplate press release similar to that of Forest and Iron counties, urging compliance with physical distancing, personal hygiene, and safe business practices.

Iron County: Iron County Health Officer Katie Hampston has not yet responded to an email requesting information, but the county issued a press release Wednesday night mirroring that of Price County.

Lac du Flambeau Tribe: The Tribal Council is keeping in place its Shelter-at-Home Declaration and curfew on the Reservation.

“Historically, Tribes have suffered significant illness and loss of human life for a variety of reasons when pandemics sweep across the land. Therefore, our No. 1 priority is to keep everyone as safe as possible who live, work and visit the Reservation,” the Tribal Council wrote in a statement. “So for now, please continue to observe the Shelter-At-Home Order and the curfew."  

Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe: Non-essential travel to and from the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Mole Lake will remain restricted. All non-essential businesses will remain closed, and essential businesses will continue under current safety protocols.

"Current plans to reopen non-essential businesses are still taking place and will be done in a safe and responsible manner," tribal leadership said in a document.

Forest County Potawatomi Community: The tribe remains under its own Public Health State of Emergency and is analyzing the Supreme Court decision to determine if any additional actions will be needed.

Check this page frequently as updates may change.

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