Wisconsin’s Open Records Laws are generally very strong and favor the release of all information held by government unless there is a compelling reason to not do so. In this case, there are several reasons to deny public release. The release of the information would unfairly damage Wisconsin’s small businesses and potentially damage the effort to combat this and future pandemics.
The public disclosure of businesses where employees have had COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who did would cause undue harm to those businesses. The mere disclosure of the information gives the false impression that somehow the businesses were at fault, or at least complicit, for the spread of COVID-19, but no such connection can rationally be made. The employees might have contracted COVID-19 anywhere, but only their employers would be listed.
While not a fair conclusion, Wisconsin’s small businesses that show up on that list might lose potential patrons who think that the businesses are unclean, infection-spreading, hot spots. This lumps in businesses who followed every rule or advice issued from health agencies (however wrong they were) with those businesses that took little or no precautions. The fact that one employee contracted COVID-19 or encountered someone who did puts all of those businesses on the same unfair list.
Furthermore, employment is fluid. There is no guarantee that an employee with COVID-19 last May still works at the same employer. All the list would show is that an employee had COVID-19 sometime in the past. It is not current or actionable data. Wisconsin’s small businesses have suffered enough and do not deserve one more hit from Governor Evers by having their names thrown into the public space.
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