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Judge blocks Gov. Evers from naming businesses with positive COVID-19 cases

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Gov. Tony Evers wears a mask during a media briefing.

UPDATE (WKOW) -- A Waukesha County judge issued a temporary restraining order against Gov. Tony Evers and other state leaders from releasing the names of businesses whose employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Waukesha County Judge Lloyd V. Carter issued the ruling Thursday evening. It remains in effect for five days.

The order also applies to Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan and Department of Health Services Acting Secretary Andrea Palm.

MADISON (WKOW) -- The state's largest business group sued Gov. Evers and other state officials to prevent the release of the names of businesses that have had at least two employees test positive for COVID-19.

Several media outlets have filed requests for the information, and Evers said today the state intended to comply with their requests.

"We have a legal obligation to the public to release that information," Evers said.

However, Evers initially said last month the state didn't intend to publish the information online on the Department of Health Services website, but during a media briefing Thursday he said the state is obligated to release the names.

Evers said he only intends to release business names to media outlets that filed freedom of information requests and won't be posting them online.

The lawsuit by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce challenges the legality of the state's planned release of what it claims will be patient-identifiable data from the confidential patient health care records of thousands of Wisconsin citizens across the state, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the release will violate Wisconsin laws requiring any person, including government actors, to keep confidential the information contained in medical records and will wantonly damage the reputations of businesses and workers.

WMC said they learned Wednesday that Joel Brennan of the Department of Administration notified them that Evers and DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm planned to release the names of over 1,000 businesses across the State of Wisconsin that have had at least two employees test positive for COVID-19, purportedly in response to public records requests.

In a statement by WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer, he said "this type of release has the potential to spread false and misleading information that will damage the brands of Wisconsin employers.” 

Since July, WMC has urged Gov. Evers, the Department of Health Services and other officials to keep this information private.

DHS spokesperson said they are reviewing the lawsuit and will "not be publicly posting the names of those businesses because we do not think that has public health value."

Defendants plan to release this information on Oct. 2, 2020, according to the lawsuit.

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Dan Plutchak

Social Media and Digital Content Manager, 27 News

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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