When the Wisconsin state Supreme Court struck down the governor’s extended stay-at-home order in a bitterly partisan ruling on Wednesday, crowds descended on bars throughout the state, and local officials raced to impose or reaffirm restrictions meant to keep COVID-19 infections at bay.
Meanwhile, residents of neighboring Illinois saw opportunity.
The Daily Beast spoke with several Illinois residents who shared plans to travel this weekend to Wisconsin. While they generally said they were aware of coronavirus-related travel concerns, they echoed a simmering national debate about how long economies can be placed in hibernation.
Oh, and they were anxious to feel something again.
Anthony Hersick, 22, from Ingleside, Illinois, said he and some friends were planning on crossing the border to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to head to the bars and clubs in the area. “I’m a little worried [about COVID-19], but we are here to support our friends,” he told The Daily Beast. “As long as we follow the rules, that’s good enough for me.”
Hersick said he and his friends were close with some of the local DJs in Lake Geneva and they wanted to financially support them and the local businesses in the area that were struggling.
Kat Schimian, 32, is an Illinois resident and health-care worker who planned on taking a trip to Wisconsin this weekend with a group of friends by motorcycle. She said they would practice social distancing and didn’t want to enter any establishments that are overly crowded. “I want to enjoy my summer, but safely,” she said.
Schimian mentioned that she had recently been tested to make sure she was not a carrier of the virus. She said there was a balance between keeping others safe and allowing people to choose mitigated risk.
Public health experts have repeatedly warned that tests are not always reliable and can sometimes produce false negatives. And people can still contract COVID-19 after being tested while remaining asymptomatic.
The looming infusion of out-of-state bodies to Wisconsin was just the latest episode in a larger trend among Illinois residents surrounded by states and cities with varying levels of COVID-19 lockdown.
Gina Beena, 43, is from northern Illinois and said her family took a drive to Iowa last weekend.
“It was worth the hour-and-a-half drive because we could enter the stores as a family,” she said. “It was awesome seeing other families with young kids shopping too.”
But some Illinois residents expressed anger and frustration over their neighbors’ decision to cross state lines.
“Quite frankly, those who find themselves wandering [across state lines] should be forced to stay there,” said Patty Steel of Wonder Lake, Illinois. “Your desire to sit in a restaurant is selfish and gross, especially after Wisconsin posted almost 300 daily cases of COVID-19 yesterday.”
Chicago Alderman Sue Garza is responsible for the city’s 10th Ward, one where she said she can “walk to Indiana from [her] front porch.” Garza said she was very concerned for her residents and that many of them were already crossing state lines.
“It scares the hell out of me,” she told The Daily Beast. “There is no social distancing [in Indiana], everyone is on top of each other.
Garza said she is trying to impress upon Chicagoans to stay the course for just a bit longer. “These people are coming back to their families, their grandmas, and their children, and no one is safe from this,” she said. “People who think they are invincible are playing with not just their lives but other people’s lives as well. And I don’t think that’s right.”
On Thursday afternoon, during his daily press briefing, Illinois Gov. Pritzker addressed concerns about residents flocking to other, less shuttered states.
“I would remind people that the virus is still out there,” he said. “Just because people opened doesn’t mean they don’t run the risk of contracting it. We are following the metrics for the state of Illinois. I wish we had a national plan but there isn’t one. My job is to keep the people of Illinois safe and I’m doing that.”
Through a spokesperson, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling “obviously partisan” and “incredibly reckless and dangerous.”
“When you ignore clear public health guidance and don’t social distance or abide by Stay at Home orders, you are putting everyone at risk—including yourself, but especially our eldest residents and those with underlying health conditions,” she told The Daily Beast in a statement.
But pleas from local leaders were being ignored by many Illinois residents who felt the cost of closing businesses outweighed the need to shelter in place. Edith Brown, 56, is an IT worker from central Illinois. She was planning on traveling to St. Louis with a friend to “get something to eat and to get a haircut.”
“I’m more of a libertarian in my political views,” she said. “Poverty and losing your business or home has its own mortality rate.”
Many Illinois residents who spoke with The Daily Beast did worry about backlash from residents of neighboring states when they cross state lines. Hersick, for one, said he was slightly worried about having Illinois license plates in Wisconsin this weekend.
Dr. Craig Klugman, a professor of bioethics and health sciences at DePaul University in Chicago, suggested the emerging inter-state travel spree exposed the flaws of a state-by-state approach to battling COVID-19. “While governors and other officials might take drastically different approaches, the virus does not care,” he said. “The virus does not recognize it is leaving Illinois and entering Wisconsin.”
Klugman said that the ethics were fairly clear-cut.
“While you made the decision to expose yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighbors did not get to make that choice—you forced it on them,” he said. Klugman added that if people do decide to cross state lines, at the very least they should wear a mask, avoid touching their face, and wash their hands frequently.
“Ask yourself a few questions: Do you really need that item or service? Can you survive without it?” he said.
Echoing a slew of epidemiological models published in recent weeks, Klugman noted it was safe to assume that states opening up were likely to see an increase in infection and death rates.
“That line on the map does not offer protection,” he said. “We are only as protected from infection as the weakest shelter-in-place orders of surrounding states.”