On any other Tuesday evening, there would be a dozen cars parked along the street, bar windows would glow with neon beer signs and, behind them, customers would chat over drinks and food about the week’s events.
But by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, just two hours after Gov. Tony Evers’ order to close bars and restaurants and ban gatherings of 10 people or more, Chetek’s Second Street was empty and quiet.
State health officials have gradually ramped up their response to the threat of the COVID-19, since the first case was reported on Feb. 5.
On Friday, March 13, Evers announced that schools would close at the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18. Then gatherings of 50 or more people were banned after Monday, March 16.
As of Tuesday, March 17, there were 72 confirmed cases in Wisconsin (including the first case, who recovered after isolating at home) with community spread, prompting Evers to issue the large-gathering ban.
Many bars and restaurants followed the orders to close. Only those that offered delivery or take-out could remain open, but without seating or eating on premise. Those that could began making plans for reduced hours.
Most cautious, but not alarmed
On Monday afternoon, after the 50-person gathering ban had been announced, Beth Siems, owner at Phill’s Bar & Grill, said she was not personally concerned about the coronavirus, but the bar had already changed some of it’s operations in light of it.
Condiment caddies were removed from tables, along with the glasses of silverware. Gone were the shared bowls of popcorn or peanuts along the bar. Instead, there were canisters of sanitizer wipes and spray bottles with bleach. Everything was getting wiped down regularly, Siems said.
Friday was busy and business seemed fairly normal. This time of year was slower than the summer. She hoped they would not have to close, because her employees would be out of work, but they would close if that had to. That all changed on Tuesday, with Phill’s announcing they would close at 5 p.m. with the state order.
Aaron Nichols, branch manager at ABC Truss, said that as of Friday, March 13, nothing had changed for employees, other than they were promoting hand washing and other personal hygiene measures. They were reviewing CDC recommendations but nothing had been implemented. Factories are exempt from the ban.
At Fostbites on Knapp Street, Mike Waterhouse was at the bar with friends on Monday evening. He wasn’t concerned about the coronavirus.
“No. If I was concerned, I wouldn’t go to the store and stand in line where everyone else is,” he said.
The only changes in his life was having his elderly mother, whom he takes care of, use hand sanitizer more often. He was concerned for her.
He felt the large-gathering ban was an overreaction and people should stop worrying. The illness wasn’t a joke, especially for those with compromised immune systems, but people shouldn’t disrupt their lives because of it, he said.
Steve Curtis was walking his dog, Daisy, on Monday evening. He was concerned about COVID-19, but was not in favor of the 50-person gathering ban announced that day.
“I don’t want to get sick or anything,” Curtis said. If it did come to the area, he’d stay at home and keep following the personal hygiene recommendations, like washing his hands regularly. But as of now, he hadn’t changed is daily routine because of it.
Corissa Banks, of Chetek, had just stocked up on some supplies on Monday evening, just in case. She bought groceries, nail polish and cold medicine from Family Dollar. The shelves were getting more bare, she said.
“I am in a way,” she said of her concern of COVID-19. Mainly, she was concerned for her daughter who has asthma. But because Chetek is a small town, out of the way, she felt the threat was lower than what national media outlets were suggesting. Out of all her friends on social media, she didn’t know anyone who had it.
Her family didn’t go out much so their daily lives wouldn’t change much if a mass quarantine order came. One daughter was sad that the schools closed, but she was still connecting with friends via social media. Banks and her daughter spent the time cooking, taking walks, playing games like “I Spy” and checking out educational websites to pass the time.
Overreacting to the threat was better than underreacting, she said. Still, the gathering ban was affecting her older daughter’s work. She hoped it would pass before the tourist season started.
“I feel like it’s going to hurt us,” Banks said of the ban. No work meant no money and no travel. It could mean financial trouble for many.
At KJ’s in Chetek, Peter LeJeune was picking up bread and eggs at the store after work before he went to his home in Rice Lake. There were no eggs or bread at Walmart the last time he was there, due to panic buying.
LeJune was concerned about the virus, but he was following the basic personal hygiene practices and social distancing he had learned from four years in the U.S. military. He was concerned that others appeared to not be following it, or hadn’t before the outbreak.
A self-described introvert, he didn’t think that his daily routine would change because of it. He didn’t go out much and usually cooked food at home. Though he was more careful of watching who might be sick around him.
He lived with someone with a suppressed immune system and he did not want them to catch it, nor did he want to get sick and miss two weeks of work.
“I think it’s fine by me,” he said of the 50-person gathering ban. He saw pros and cons of the ban, but figured it was good to be proactive, given the number of deaths reported in China.
“I think we all just need to keep a cool head about it,” LeJune said.
At the Chetek Bakery, business was up last weekend, said owner Lynn Marty.
“People have asked if we are going to stay open and we will stay open until someone says we can’t,” Marty said on Monday.
The bakery was monitoring the situation, but not much had to be changed for their operations. Other than their seating area, they didn’t have any self-serve food or beverages. Retail food shops, like the bakery, were exempt.
Marty said that they were trying to limit their inventory as to not waste too much that didn’t sell. They were still offering birthday cakes and baked goods for small gatherings. She recommended that if someone was looking for a specialty item, to call ahead.