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Wisconsin health officials say hospitals are still straining as the state continues to set daily records for the number of COVID-19 cases. (Nov. 12)

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The claim: Wisconsin Supreme Court just struck down stay-at-home order 

A series of articles and Facebook posts surfaced Nov. 12 announcing the Wisconsin Supreme Court had tossed Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order.

This likely came as a surprise to Wisconsinites, who weren’t actually under a stay-at-home order. And hadn’t been since May.

It’s quite literally old news — the result of a mistake by one news organization and a lack of research by other posters.

Here’s what happened.

Originated with a Washington Times posting error

The Washington Times posted a story with a Nov. 12, 2020, dateline with the following lead:

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers‘ coronavirus stay-at-home order Wednesday, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended it for another month without consulting legislators.

The 4-3 ruling essentially reopens the state, lifting caps on the size of gatherings, allowing people to travel as they please and allowing shuttered businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants. The Tavern League of Wisconsin swiftly posted the news on its website, telling members, “You can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!”

It comes across reasonably believable since it was posted on a Thursday, the pandemic is raging on and Wisconsin is led by a Democratic governor.

But this actually happened on Wednesday, May 13. The identical article is posted with that date on The Associated Press website and many others.

The article remained on the Times’ website with the errant dateline until USA TODAY brought it to the attention of editors on Nov. 13. At that point it was listed on the home page as the most popular story on the site.

More: Fact check: No evidence mask wearers are arriving in ICUs with pneumonia

Washington Times Digital Editor Ian Bishop said he was investigating how the story was reposted with the wrong date. The Times updated its story to note it occurred in May.

Meanwhile, several posts sharing this story as if it were new were drawing heavy traffic on Facebook, including a post from a Minnesota state representative and an article by far-right news website Gateway Pundit, which has been a regular purveyor of misinformation.

Gateway Pundit wrote its own story, with commentary added, citing the Washington Times without noticing the story occurred six months prior. It even asserted this “isn’t the first time” the high court reversed an Evers order, citing the May decision without realizing it was the same one. USA TODAY has reached out to Gateway Pundit for comment.

More: As flu season nears its peak, COVID-19 cases are surging: Get your flu shot now, experts say

Wisconsin’s spring stay-at-home order

That May 13 order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers’ stay-at-home order, which has been imposed March 12 and was scheduled to end May 26.

The order, which shut down scores of businesses, bars and restaurants, and schools, had been slated to expire in late April. But Evers and Department of Health Secretary Andrea Palm extended it by a month as cases of the virus continued to climb — the move that prompted GOP lawmakers to sue.

Evers has not implemented another stay-at-home order since, though he has implemented a statewide mask mandate that remains in place.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has become one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots, setting near-daily records for cases and deaths through October and November as it consistently posted one of the highest daily cases per capita rates in the country.

Evers delivered a speech Nov. 10 calling on residents to voluntarily stay home because “this crisis is urgent” and Wisconsin hospitals are running out of intensive care beds. He stopped short of putting in place another mandatory order

Our ruling: Missing context

We rate this claim MISSING CONTEXT. This is old news, but it’s presented as new. The original version of the Times story failed to note this actually occurred in May, and the later versions from Gateway Pundit and the Minnesota state lawmaker hadn’t yet made that correction a day later.

Our fact-check sources

  • Washington Times, Nov. 12 (archived version), Wisconsin Supreme Court tosses governor’s stay-at-home order
  • Facebook post by Jeremy Munson, Nov. 12
  • Gateway Pundit, Nov. 12, Democrat Governor Tony Evers Furious After Wisconsin Supreme Court Tosses Out His Latest Covid Stay-at-Home Order
  • The Associated Press, May 13, Wisconsin high court tosses out governor’s stay-home order
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, May 13
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 8, Gov. Tony Evers releases guidelines for operating when businesses reopen
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 10, ‘This crisis is urgent’: Tony Evers urges Wisconsin to stay home on day of record cases, deaths

Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.

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