Three Wisconsin business groups are suing to block the governor from revealing the names of more than 1,000 businesses whose employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims releasing the names would blacklist those companies as the disease surges in America’s Dairyland. There were 2,745 new cases reported in Wisconsin on Friday, and 53 deaths in the past three days, according to Worldometers.
The state ranks third in the nation for per capita increases in cases over the last two weeks, The Associated Press reported.
A judge in Waukesha County issued a five-day temporary restraining order after The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group, and the Muskego and New Berlin chambers of commerce filed the suit against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and members of his administration. Waukesha County is a Republican stronghold.
Evers had said the state would be releasing information on closed investigations into businesses where multiple positive cases of COVID-19 had occurred, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The suit argues that the data is taken from employee medical records that are private under state law. WMC president and CEO Kurt Bauer said in a statement that releasing the information “has the potential to spread false and misleading information that will damage the brands of Wisconsin employers.”
“Not only could this cause significant financial and reputational harm to businesses, it would reduce the effectiveness of contact tracing, reduce the confidence level workers have in their employers and actually increase the likelihood of spreading the virus,” Bauer said in a statement Thursday.
Evers said the administration is trying to satisfy requests for information under Wisconsin’s open records law.
“We’re not going to be putting these lists of businesses on our website,” Evers said. “We’ve been asked by media for lists of businesses under investigation. Our lawyers have worked on that and if it’s a legitimate release that we’ll be doing. We have an obligation to the public to obey the law in that area.”
“If you put these names out there, you’re going to ruin businesses,” Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, told the State Journal. “You’re going to put a scarlet ‘C’ on these businesses.”
Wisconsin National Guard members administer COVID-19 tests in a parking lot in Milwaukee.Morry Gash/AP
George Stanley, the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one of the media outlets seeking the names of the businesses, pointed to previous reporting on long-term care facilities, meatpacking plants and other businesses that failed to protect their employees or inform the public about COVID-19 outbreaks.
“All we aim to do is let people know where outbreaks are occurring — not identify anybody who is sick,” Stanley said. “These health records belong to the taxpayers and not to any business lobbying group.”