Hordes of people in Wisconsin flocked to bars Wednesday just hours after the state Supreme Court struck down the governor's stay-at-home order, a move public health experts have warned will lead to "a resurgence of [coronavirus] cases and deaths."
In a 4–3 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Gov. Tony Evers "cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely" and limited his use of executive powers to issue statewide emergency orders aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.
Evers first issued a monthlong stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus on March 24, which he extended into late May. GOP state lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Evers, a Democrat, and Wisconsin's health secretary, Andrea Palm, over the extension, arguing that the decisions should be made in agreement with the legislature, where Republicans hold a majority.
There are more than 10,900 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wisconsin to date, and there have been 421 deaths.
Almost immediately after the court issued its ruling Wednesday, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the state's largest liquor license trade association, instructed its thousands of members that they can "OPEN IMMEDIATELY."
"It is legal to open your business today," the association said on Facebook. "Please review the [Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation] Guidelines as you prepare to open."
However, photos and videos show crowds of customers without face masks packed into bars, with social distancing guidelines from the WEDC not being visibly adhered to. The Tavern League of Wisconsin did not respond to a request for comment.
Evers expressed his unhappiness with the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision Wednesday, calling it a "sad occasion for the state" in an interview with MSNBC.
"We are in the Wild West. There are no restrictions at all in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "We’re going to have more cases. We’re going to have more deaths."
Public health experts have said reopening businesses without robust testing and tracing, and without proper social distancing guidelines being practiced, could lead to many more deaths.
Wisconsin was not the only state where an alarming number of people were packed into bars and restaurants. In Houston, where Gov. Greg Abbott has been allowing businesses to reopen in phases, a bar called Prospect Park served a large number of customers who were drinking, eating, and smoking hookah on Wednesday night.
Twitter user @_parisimone, who did not want to share her real name and whose video of the crowded bar online went viral, said she went there for a drink with a friend, not expecting to see so many people.
"I was surprised so many people were sharing hookah with a whole respiratory disease on the loose," she told BuzzFeed News. "No one was attempting to social distance, even with the 6-feet markers on the floor."