Four more states added to New York quarantine order, Cuomo says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional four states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The newly added states – Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin – were all seeing ‘significant’ community spread of the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

Delaware, previously on the list, has now been removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 22 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days, according to Cuomo’s order which was first issued in June.

On Monday, the governor announced a travel enforcement operation at airports across the state to ensure travelers are abiding by the quarantine restrictions.

New York reported five COVID-19 fatalities on Monday, and 820 hospitalizations. There were 912 positive test results, or 1.5% of the total, as Cuomo warned in a tweet that “infection rates are alarmingly rising among 20-somethings in NY.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum)

‘Wild, wild West’: Wisconsin reopens for business

By Brendan O’Brien

PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (Reuters) – As a handful of patrons sat at the bar nursing beers and watching a rerun of a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Junior Useling prepared for what he hoped would be another busy night at the Patio Bar & Grill.

It was just last evening that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the governor does not have the power to impose a statewide coronavirus lockdown, sparking a mix of hope and confusion among struggling business owners across the Midwestern state.

Useling, 71, considers himself one of the lucky ones: Port Washington is part of Ozaukee County, which unlike a half-dozen other counties and cities across Wisconsin has interpreted the court’s decision as an unfettered green light.

“Why would I stay closed? … I got mortgages and bills. My god, if we kept on going we would all be broke,” he told Reuters. “This country is supposed to be free to do what you want.”

The court sided with a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers who argued the state’s top public health official, Andrea Palm, exceeded her authority by imposing a stay-at-home order through May 26.

Not long after the ruling was announced, some beer-loving Wisconsinites rushed to bars for their first taste of freedom in nearly two months, and pictures appeared on social media of maskless crowds of revelers nowhere near 6 feet apart.

The rift over how and when to reopen in Wisconsin reflects its status as a key battleground for the Nov. 3 presidential election, along with neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Donald Trump won by a hair in 2016.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Palm urged state residents to continue to stay home even if their local leaders said otherwise, warning that relaxed restrictions risked “increasing our cases and deaths.”

Wisconsin had recorded 11,380 coronavirus cases and 433 deaths as of Thursday.

The owner of Remington’s River Inn, Amy Ollman, said she had already made up her mind to reopen before the ruling, a decision endorsed by a patron who shouted “open up America” as she described cleaning tables and chairs for the past two weeks.

“Top to bottom, left to right, we cleaned this entire place,” she said from behind her bar in the village of Thiensville, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Milwaukee and also part of Ozaukee County. “It’s time to get back to normalcy.”

WRESTLING WITH DECISIONS

The court’s decision came as state leaders wrestle with how and when to relax mandatory business closures and other restrictions on social gatherings that have proved successful in slowing the outbreak but have devastated the economy.

Like most of his counterparts, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has had to weigh the interests of cities such as Milwaukee and Madison against less-populated areas that have seen fewer cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Evers’ one-size-fits-all approach rankled Republicans in his state and drew fire from President Donald Trump, who took a swipe at the governor on Twitter on Thursday saying Wisconsin was “bustling” and “people want to get on with their lives.”

But the court’s ruling also triggered confusion as some local leaders in cities such as Milwaukee and Appleton, as well as in Dane, Brown and Kenosha counties, kept their lockdowns in place.

Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, sent out guidance on Thursday telling her group’s 7,000 mainly independent eating and drinking establishments to follow local restrictions if they exist.

“The rest of the state they can open 100% however they want,” she said. “It’s a little bit of the Wild Wild West right now.”

Mike Eitel said his phone “blew up” after the court ruling with patrons wanting to know if Milwaukee’s Nomad World Pub and the other establishments he owns would be opening that night. He said it was a clear sign of pent-up demand.

But like other owners, Eitel said he has struggled to buy masks, gloves and other protective equipment for his workers, is faced with rising meat prices and wonders if a bar can even be profitable with strict social distancing rules.

He has also had to straddle two worlds: while the Nomad cannot open its doors until May 26 at the earliest under city rules, the outdoor bar and water sports rental shop he runs in neighboring Waukesha County has been free of any restrictions as of Wednesday night.

“There is massive confusion on what it all means,” Eitel said. “It’s insane.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Port Washington, Wisconsin and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)

Long lines, face masks in Wisconsin as voters head to polls despite coronavirus

By John Whitesides and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – Wisconsin voters faced long lines at limited polling locations on Tuesday, as the state’s presidential primary and local elections moved ahead despite mounting fears about the coronavirus outbreak.

Outside Riverside High School in Milwaukee – where officials were forced to close 175 of 180 normal voting sites due to a lack of poll workers – masked voters stood several feet apart in a line that stretched for several blocks early on Tuesday, according to video taken by onlookers and local news media.

More than half of Wisconsin’s municipalities reported shortages of poll workers, prompting the Midwestern state to call up 2,400 National Guard troops to assist.

The election took place even though Wisconsin, like most U.S. states, has imposed a stay-at-home order on its residents. More than a dozen other states have postponed their elections in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has transformed Americans’ daily lives and plunged the economy into an apparent recession.

A flurry of 11th-hour legal wrangling failed to stop the balloting, as two late court rulings on Monday put the election, which will include Democratic and Republican presidential primaries and voting for thousands of state and local offices, back on track after days of uncertainty.

In deciding separate lawsuits brought by Republicans, the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ order to delay the election until June and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal judge’s decision extending absentee voting, instead ruling ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday to be counted.

“Now voters will be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, an untenable choice that responsible public officials tried to avoid,” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, the Democratic mayor of Madison, Wisconsin.

The legal maneuvering overshadowed the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin, the first nominating contest held since March 17 in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump for the Nov. 3 election. The outbreak has pushed front-runner Joe Biden and rival Bernie Sanders off the campaign trail.

Former Vice President Biden has built a nearly insurmountable lead over Senator Sanders in the delegates who will pick the nominee at the national convention this summer. The convention, scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been postponed to August from July by the pandemic.

After a late-night meeting on Monday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said no results of Tuesday’s voting would be released until April 13, the deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday to be received.

In Milwaukee, the health commissioner in Wisconsin’s biggest city, Jeanette Kowalik, asked voters to wear masks, avoid reusing pens and stand at least six feet apart.

“I’m sorry, I wish I had the authority to protect us from this,” she wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by John Whitesides and Joseph Ax; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jonathan Oatis)

Midwest U.S. in brutal grip of colder-than-Antarctica deep freeze

A pedestrian stops to take a photo by Chicago River, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Frozen Arctic winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, unnerving residents accustomed to brutal winters and keeping them huddled indoors as offices closed and even mail carriers halted their rounds.

Classes were canceled Wednesday and Thursday in many cities, including Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways.

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service appeared to temporarily set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would stop its work: it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

Temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged to as low minus 42 Fahrenheit (minus 41 Celsius) in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and minus 31F in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service. The frigid winds were bound for the U.S. East Coast later on Wednesday into Thursday.

Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the service, said the some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 55F (minus 48C). Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 24F (minus 31C) with wind chill.

The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.

An Illinois police department found a fictitious cause for the icy blast, posting on Facebook that its officers had arrested Elsa, the frosty character from the Disney movie “Frozen,” for bringing the arctic air to the Midwest.

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

The McLean Police Department shared a staged photo of officers putting a woman dressed in a blue princess gown in pink handcuffs and escorting her into a police car.

Officials opened warming centers across the region, and in Chicago, police stations were open to anyone seeking refuge from the cold. Five city buses were also deployed to serve as mobile warming centers for homeless people.

The Chicago Police Department said that at most, it could encourage people to get out of the cold.

“But we will never force someone,” police officer Michael Carroll said.

At least five deaths relating to cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, local media reports said.

Hundreds of flights, more than half of those scheduled, were canceled on Wednesday out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

Train service Amtrak said it would cancel all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday.

Most federal government offices in Washington D.C. opened three hours late on Wednesday due to the frigid weather already impacting the area.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Wisconsin city lifts evacuation order after refinery explosion

Dark smoke rises from Husky Energy oil refinery following an explosion in Superior, Wisconsin, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of residents of a northern Wisconsin city were cleared to return to their homes on Friday, the day after a blast at a Husky Energy Inc refinery injured at least 15 people, a local official said.

Investigators searched for the cause of the massive Thursday morning explosion at the refinery, capable of processing up to 38,000 barrels of oil a day, which shook the city of Superior, Wisconsin, home to about 27,000 people.

“All indications are that the refinery site is safe and stable and the air quality is clean and normal,” Superior Mayor Jim Paine said in a Facebook posting, noting that the evacuation order was lifted as of 6 a.m. local time (1100 GMT). “Welcome home.”

A black liquid pours from a ruptured tank following an explosion at Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

A black liquid pours from a ruptured tank following an explosion at Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

At least 15 people were injured, local media reported, and at least 10 people – one seriously injured – were taken to area hospitals, said a spokeswoman for Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center, which operates hospitals in Superior and nearby Duluth, Minnesota.

What ignited the blast was not clear. After an initial blaze was extinguished, a storage tank was punctured, and a second fire erupted, Husky Energy spokesman Mel Duvall said.

Another tank caught fire at 3:15 p.m., a local ABC affiliate reported, citing Douglas County authorities.

“Our focus in the days ahead will turn to the investigation and understanding the root cause of the incident,” Husky Energy said in a late Thursday Twitter post.

Thick black smoke billowed from the facility and hung over Superior throughout the day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands to flee homes and businesses.

Friday classes were canceled in Superior and nearby Maple school districts.

There were no reports of fatalities, and all of the refinery’s workers have been accounted for, Husky Energy’s Duvall said.

The refinery had additional workers on site preparing for a plant-wide overhaul when the blast occurred, he said. It produces asphalt, gasoline, diesel and heavy fuel oils, largely using heavy crude oil imported from Canada.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has sent a four-person team to investigate. The non-regulatory federal agency investigates serious chemical accidents such as refinery fires.

Husky purchased the refinery from Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP last year.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Scott Malone)

Storm barrels through U.S. Midwest with snow and frigid temperatures

Satellite image from the National Weather Service. 2-9-18

By Brendan O’Brien and Suzannah Gonzales

MILWAUKEE, Wis./CHICAGO (Reuters) – A major winter storm barreled into Chicago and Milwaukee early on Friday, dumping heavy snow and dropping temperatures well below freezing as it forced schools to close and threatened to leave travel at a stand still across the Midwest.

The storm system stretches from western Montana across the Dakotas and parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and reaches as far east as southern Michigan. The storm could drop up to 14 inches (36 cm) of snow in some areas, the National Weather Service said.

Chicago was anticipating six to 12 inches of snow early on Friday morning with more snow expected over the weekend, according to the service’s weather forecast.

“The city is ready for this,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during a news conference about the city’s preparedness on Thursday. “Make no mistake though, this is a heavy snow, heavier than we’ve seen in a number of winters.”

City officials announced school closures in Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee because of the weather.

Wind chill temperatures were expected to drop below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C) in many areas across the region, and officials warned of limited visibility on roads.

Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway international airports canceled more than 200 flights on Thursday before the storm hit, and several airlines were also anticipating delays or cancellations.

United Airlines said on Twitter that waivers were in effect for snow-hit areas this week allowing travelers to change flights without charges, and Delta Air Lines offered to rebook flights on Friday for 18 Midwest cities.

Winter weather across the United States this week killed several people in accidents in the Midwest, including six in Iowa, two in Missouri and one in Montana, local media in those states reported.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Listeria risk prompts Meijer to recall produce in six U.S. states

Listeria risk prompts Meijer to recall produce in six U.S. states

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retailer Meijer Inc said it was recalling packaged vegetables in six U.S. states because of possible contamination from Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause fatal food poisoning in young children, pregnant women and elderly or frail people.

Meijer, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said there were no illnesses reported as of Sunday.

The recall affects 35 products and includes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus as well as party trays sold in Meijer-branded plastic or foam packaging in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin between Sept. 27 and Oct. 20, the company said on Saturday.

In February, Meijer recalled its Meijer-branded Colby and Colby Jack cheese sold through its deli counters because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1,600 people develop a serious form of infection known as listeriosis each year, and 260 die from the disease, making it the third most deadly form of food poisoning in the United States.

“The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older and people with weakened immune systems,” the CDC said on its website. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea and can start the same day of exposure or as much as 70 days later.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney)

Wisconsin company offers employees microchip implants

Tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) computer chips with the needles used to implant them under the skin are pictured in New York January 4, 2006. REUTERS/Chip East

By Taylor Harris

(Reuters) – A Wisconsin vending machine company is offering its employees a chance to have a microchip implanted in their hands that they could use to buy snacks, log in to computers or use the copy machine.

About 50 employees at Three Square Market have agreed to the optional implant of the chips, which are the approximate size and shape of a grain of rice, said Tony Danna, vice president of international sales at the River Falls-based company.

The company, which employs 85, said it was the first in the United States to offer staff the technology which is similar to that used by contactless credit cards and chips used to identify pets.

The implants made by Sweden’s BioHax International are part of a long-term test aimed to see if the radio-frequency identification chips could have broader commercial applications, Danna said.

“We’ve done the research and we’re pretty well educated about this,” Danna said in an interview.

The company is holding an Aug. 1 “chip party” where employees will have the device inserted between their forefinger and thumb using a syringe-like instrument.

The RFID chips use electromagnetic fields to communicate and can be read at a distance of no more than 6 inches (15 cm), Danna said.

Critics of using chips in humans include Nevada State Senator Becky Harris, who in February introduced legislation that would make forced installation of microchips illegal.

“It is possible to hack the information that is contained within the chips,” Harris told a state Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at the time.

The company’s CEO Todd Westby in a statement predicted the technology could become popular among companies.

“Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.,” he said.

(Reporting by Taylor Harris in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Trump vows to back U.S. dairy farmers in Canada trade spat

FILE PHOTO: An old tractor sporting a Canadian national flag is seen parked in the rural township of Oro-Medonte, Ontario July 26, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

By Rod Nickel

(Reuters) РU.S. President Donald Trump promised on Tuesday to defend American dairy farmers who have been hurt by Canada’s protectionist trade practices, during a visit to the cheese-making state of Wisconsin.

Canada’s dairy sector is protected by high tariffs on imported products and controls on domestic production as a means of supporting prices that farmers receive. It is frequently criticized by other dairy-producing countries.

“We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers,” Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Because in Canada some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others.”

Trump did not detail his concerns, but promised his administration would call the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demand an explanation.

“It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it’s not going to be happening for long,” Trump said.

Trump also reiterated his threat to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico if it cannot be changed.

U.S. dairy industry groups want Trump to urge Trudeau to halt a pricing policy that has disrupted some U.S. dairy exports and prioritize dairy market access in NAFTA renegotiation talks.

“A WTO complaint would be a last resort because it would take five or six years to come to any resolution,” said Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Canada’s dairy farmers agreed last year to sell milk ingredients used for cheese-making to Canadian processors, which include Saputo Inc and Parmalat Canada Inc [PLTPRC.UL] at prices competitive with international rates. The pricing agreement was a response to growing U.S. exports of milk proteins that were not subject to Canada’s high tariffs.

Canada’s envoy to Washington on Tuesday sent a letter to the governors of New York and Wisconsin – both major dairy states – saying U.S. producers’ problems stemmed from overproduction rather than Canadian policy.

In the letter, released by Ottawa, ambassador David MacNaughton said Canada’s dairy industry was less protectionist than its U.S. counterpart.

Industry groups in New Zealand, Australia, the European Union, Mexico and the United States complained the new prices for Canadian milk ingredients under-cut exports to Canada.

“President Trump’s reaction is not surprising. He is defending his domestic dairy industry,” said Jacques Lefebvre, CEO of Dairy Processors Association of Canada. “Further communications with the Canadian government will broaden his perspective.”

The Dairy Farmers of Canada said it was confident Ottawa would “continue to protect and defend” the dairy industry.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Karl Plume in Chicago,; Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Police officer, three others killed in Wisconsin shooting: reports

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A police officer and three other people were killed in a string of shootings, including at a bank and a law firm, in central Wisconsin following what police referred to as domestic incident, media reported on Wednesday.

A suspect was taken into custody by police at an apartment building in Weston, a community of 15,000 about 90 miles (140 km) west of Green Bay, in the wake of the shootings, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper reported.

The incident began with a “domestic situation,” the Journal Sentinel reported, citing a press release from the Rothschild Police Department.

At about 12:30 p.m. central time shots were reported fired at the Marathon Savings Bank in the nearby town of Rothschild, Todd Baeten, police captain for Wausau, Wisconsin, told an afternoon press conference. Police found two people shot at the bank and that the suspect fled, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Shots were then reported at a law firm in Schofield, Wisconsin at about 1:10 p.m. About 20 minutes later, police received a call from an apartment building in Weston. Police converged on the apartment complex and took the suspect into custody about an hour later after more shots were fired, the Journal Sentinel reported.

It is unclear where the police officer was shot and killed. Police did not disclose the identities of the suspect and the four people who were killed. Wausau police and the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations declined to confirm the casualties to Reuters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting and writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)