'We can do things safely:' Business takes steps to reopen under City of Milwaukee health order

MILWAUKEE -- Municipalities across Wisconsin are trying to figure out the next legal steps in public health following the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to end "Safer at Home."

The City of Milwaukee's new health order -- Moving Milwaukee Forward -- allows salons, spas, tattoo parlors and tanning facilities to open with social distancing measures in place. Indoor retail and child care can also open up to a certain capacity. Bars and restaurants can open for only carryout or delivery.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he is confident in the city's actions and that the city has every legal right to issue the order, even as communities elsewhere do the opposite.

Like the patches that make up a quilt, the statewide "Safer at Home" order sewed communities together under one blanket.  The Supreme Court ruling loosened the threads.

"The fact that there was a 4-3 decision by the state Supreme Court does not change or end the pandemic," said Barrett. "I can't believe, although maybe I shouldn't be surprised, that the Supreme Court is going to take away the ability for local governments to govern local health issues.

"That is about as basic as it comes as far as health departments to localize."

Dr. Sanjib Bhattacharyya

Dr. Sanjib Bhattacharyya, laboratory director for the Milwaukee Health Department, signed the order. He is second in command begins Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik who is on medical leave, set to return next week.

"We cannot just flip the switch overnight," said Bhattacharyya. "It's not just one of us making the decision."

The Wisconsin National Guard continues COVID-19 testing at two Milwaukee locations, which health officials say will be key in bringing the threads of affected communities back as one.

Impact on businesses

Geri Beth Stigen

The city health order in identical to the one signed by the rest of Milwaukee County's municipalities.

For some business owners, the changes in the City of Milwaukee brought much-needed relief.

"I'm a business owner. I have two children and no unemployment," said Geri Beth Stigen, owner of Get Dolled Up Beauty Lounge in Bay View. "I want everyone to be safe and healthy. I know that in our industry we can do things safely."

Stigen was able to open up her shop with a safety plan she had ready to go thanks to guidance from her attorney and business coach. She is operating strictly on appointments; no walk-ins are allowed. There are also temperature screenings at the door.

"From there, if you do not have a temperature we test and ask for all of the signs of COVID-19," said Stigen.

She says her work stations are also regularly sanitized.

Get Dolled Up Beauty Lounge

Over the last 48 hours, officials have discussed the legalities of local health orders.

Tom Barrett

"We've worked very closely with the city attorney's office and, as you know, we have made changes in the last 24 hours," he said. "We are hoping we can continue to bring business back to life in a way that is responsible."

There is no doubt that the last couple of days have caused confusion for business owners, which is why Stigen is ready to help others in her industry.

"I want other salon owners, who would love this information, I would be happy to share it," she said. "Someone helped me, and I want to help other people get on their feet and get going."

In the everchanging situation, the City of Cudahy was the first Milwaukee County municipality to withdraw from the suburban Milwaukee County health order that was signed earlier this week. That order ends May 21. The City of Milwaukee's order is scheduled to end once the city hits certain reopening criteria.