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Wisconsin health officials worried about holiday tourism amid pandemic

Associated Press

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FILE - Interstate 90 near Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin health officials are concerned about how tourism during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend might facilitate the spread of the coronavirus in rural parts of the state after the state’s Supreme Court halted Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week.

Dr. Geoffrey Swain, former medical director for the city of Milwaukee Health Department, said people aren’t following safe physical distancing practices as bars and restaurants reopened in many rural areas.

“I’m very, very worried about rural Wisconsin,” Swain told Wisconsin Public Radio on Monday.

His warning follows the state Supreme Court striking down Evers’ coronavirus “Safer at Home” directive on May 13. Some cities and counties then extended their own versions of the order to restrict which businesses could be open and to establish precautions against the spread of COVID-19. Other regions took advantage of the court’s ruling by immediately resuming economic activity.

In Milwaukee and Dane counties, two of the top counties for visitor spending, both extended their own stay-at-home orders. Dane County’s directive ends May 26. The suburbs in Milwaukee County have a stay-at-home order in effect until Thursday while the city of Milwaukee’s order doesn’t have an end date.

Yet, other tourist attractions around Wisconsin seek to open up without hesitation. Walworth County tourism officials said that in previous years, the arrival of visitors could double or triple the amount of people in some communities, especially during big events. But that was before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s not as if the industry will just resume as it was pre-pandemic,” said Kathleen Seeberg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau. “It will, I think, be a slow reopening. I think people will take safety to heart.”

The county’s public health officials said they didn’t feel it was necessary to extend a stay-at-home directive after the statewide order was tossed out and will instead rely on businesses to implement preventative measures to avert spread of the disease.

“I don’t think we thought it was going to happen overnight like it did,” added Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director for the Walworth County Department of Health & Human Services. “But I’m confident in the planning I’ve seen from some of our business owners. They’re taking things very seriously.”