In 3 Key States That Elected Trump, Bitter Divisions on Reopening

By Kay Nolan, Julie Bosman and Campbell Robertson, May 14, 2020

With Democratic governors and Republican legislatures, ending stay-at-home orders mixes health guidance and partisan politics.
Photo by Lauren Justice for The New York Times

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with the Republican majority in the Legislature,
ending a statewide stay-at-home order by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

WAUKESHA, Wis. — In Wisconsin, residents woke up to a state of confusion on Thursday after the conservative majority on the State Supreme Court sided with the Republican majority in the Legislature on Wednesday night, overturning a statewide stay-at-home order by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

In Michigan, hundreds of protesters, many of them armed, turned out at the State Capitol in a drenching rainstorm. The state closed the building in advance and canceled the legislative session, rather than risk a repeat of an April protest in which angry protesters carrying long guns crowded inside.

In Pennsylvania, some Republican lawmakers urged defiance of the Democratic governor’s orders to keep nonessential businesses closed, and President Trump flew to Allentown for a politically charged visit to a medical supply facility.

The response to the coronavirus in those three states, which determined the 2016 presidential election and could strongly influence the one in November, is becoming a confused and agitated blend of health guidance, protest and partisan politics — leaving residents to fend for themselves.

“My anxiety for this pandemic is not having a unified plan, that we’re all on the same page, and listening to science and the same rules,” said Jamie O’Brien, 40, who owns a hair salon in Madison, Wis., that remains closed because of a local stay-at-home order.

Across Wisconsin, the court ruling left some residents in a festive mood, heading directly to one of the state’s many taverns to celebrate. Others were determined to stay home, worried that it was too soon to return to crowded restaurants and shops.

“You have the one group that’s like, ‘Yay!’” said Patty Schachtner, a Democratic state senator from western Wisconsin. “And the other group is like, ‘Man, life just got complicated.’”

It was an unsettling microcosm of a country increasingly unable to separate bitter political divisions from plans to battle a deadly disease. Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, backed by public health experts, have urged caution before reopening.

Republican legislatures in the states have pushed in the opposite direction, citing economic necessity and personal freedom.

Photo by Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Protesters in Lansing, Mich., gathered at the State Capitol on Thursday to speak out against Gov.
Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

The conflict between those goals was apparent in Wisconsin on Thursday, after the State Supreme Court, in effect, freed residents to return to pre-coronavirus life. Mr. Evers had issued an order in late March instructing bars, hair salons and other nonessential businesses to close, but the court rejected an order that extended restrictions until May 26.

In an interview, Mr. Evers expressed frustration and deep concern about the safety of Wisconsin residents in the days ahead.

“We are in a new chaotic time,” he said.

Asked what residents of the state should now do, Mr. Evers said, “My advice is this: Be safer at home. Keep on doing what you have been doing.”

More than 11,000 coronavirus cases have been identified in Wisconsin as of Thursday night, a New York Times database shows, and at least 434 people have died. A Marquette Law School poll released on Tuesday found that 69 percent of respondents believed it was appropriate to restrict public gatherings and close schools and businesses. Its poll in late March found that 86 percent were in favor of restrictions.

Ann Hall, who owns a beloved bistro in New Richmond, Wis., with her husband, could have been celebrating a day after the court freed her to reopen her dining room to customers.

Instead, she is debating when it will be safe enough to do so. Since Mr. Evers closed nonessential businesses, she has been offering carryout and operating on a truncated schedule, with a smaller staff. Until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, Ms. Hall might keep the doors to her 65-seat dining room closed.