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Madison, Wis., Responds To State Supreme Court Striking Down Stay Home Order

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's go now to Wisconsin, where the political fight over reopening reached all the way to that state's Supreme Court. Democratic Governor Tony Evers' stay-at-home order was overturned by the high court on Wednesday. Some businesses then immediately reopened, including bars. There were photos circulating online of at least one Wisconsin bar packed with customers just an hour after the order was lifted. Many state Republican lawmakers cheered this decision. Some local leaders disagreed with the ruling, including our next guest, the mayor of Madison, Satya Rhodes-Conway. Thank you so much for being with us.

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What do you make of the court's decision to lift the stay-at-home order?

RHODES-CONWAY: I think it's really outrageous and irresponsible. The safer-at-home order was working here in Wisconsin. And we cannot afford to ease up and let this virus spread throughout our state. And here in Madison, we are keeping the safer-at-home order at the local level. And I've heard nothing but positive feedback about that.

MARTIN: Will you take action if individuals choose to violate the stay-at-home order, especially in light of the Supreme Court's decision?

RHODES-CONWAY: We have had local orders here in Madison and Dane County since before the state issued their order, and we have been enforcing them all along, so we will continue to do that. And nothing in the Supreme Court's decision overturned our local ability to protect public health.

MARTIN: And are those citations? What are the consequences when people do violate it?

RHODES-CONWAY: We have been trying to start with education and help people understand why it's important for them to obey the safer-at-home order and how they can do that. But if that doesn't work then, yes, we do escalate it to our city attorney's office and issue citations. I have to say though, that for the most part, people have been quite good about this here in Madison. And it has been very effective. We have flattened our curve, I think, quite effectively.

MARTIN: Is there a danger, though, to this kind of patchwork solution? The reality is that even if businesses are closed in Madison, people still go to other towns, they still can go to restaurants or bars or retail locations outside of Madison and then come back and potentially spread the virus.

RHODES-CONWAY: There is absolutely a danger here. And that's why it's so irresponsible of the court to have struck down the governor's safer-at-home order without a plan in place for how we transition out of it safely. Businesses are frankly not prepared to be open again. And I know many people who are saying, regardless of what the order is, they're still staying at home because they feel like that's what's safest for them. You have to remember, Rachel, this is the Supreme Court that thought it was safe for us to hold an election in person during a pandemic. And what we saw from that is that dozens and dozens of people got sick. I expect the same to happen with this decision.

MARTIN: The CDC released new guidance yesterday explaining how that agency sees reopening happening and basically recommends that all businesses have to be able to protect vulnerable populations in order to reopen. Have you had a chance to review that? Do you find it helpful? Is it just more of what you've already determined on your own?

RHODES-CONWAY: You know, we have been watching the CDC's guidance all along and incorporating it into our own public health guidance. We are very close to releasing a phased reopening plan here in Madison. And it will be guided by data. It will be based on science. It will be turning a dial, not flipping a switch like the Supreme Court did.

MARTIN: Do you understand, though, the concerns of people who are - who have been furloughed, who have been laid off, who are seeing their businesses take immense financial hits and looking down the pike at really horrible economic consequences for their families?

RHODES-CONWAY: Absolutely. And this has been economically devastating for many people here in Madison and for the city as well, frankly. And so we are all eager to get things open again, but only in a way that's safe for everyone. I'm very concerned about the disproportionate impact on communities of color that we're seeing with this pandemic. I'm very concerned about vulnerable populations. We have to make sure that as we reopen, we do it in a way that keeps everybody safe.

MARTIN: Satya Rhodes-Conway is the mayor of Madison, WI. Thank you for your time.

RHODES-CONWAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.