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Wisconsin businesses voice concern over being named if linked to COVID-19 cases

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HAYWARD, WI-- Businesses in Wisconsin are speaking out after the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has considered publishing the names of businesses linked to COVID-19.

According to the WDHS, 20% of positive coronavirus cases in June were reported to have come from Restaurants, Bars, and social gatherings.

"We are working on a number of open record requests in regards to outbreaks at businesses," said Andrea Palm, with the WDHS.

With all of these requests, the department has considered publishing the names of businesses traced to two or more cases of COVID-19.

But many are speaking out including Chris Ruckdaschel, with the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce.

"A move such as this I think can be very confusing I think to the public as to what this means, because it certainly would not mean that there is an employee with the virus in the workplace but it could be construed that way," Ruckdaschel said.

The Hayward Chamber of Commerce is one of 60 local chambers who supported a letter sent out last week by the President of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, asking the WDHS to not publish names of businesses linked to COVID-19.

"Someone could actually contract the virus from totally outside the business. But if the business name is linked to it that is where some unfair reputational damage can be done to a business," Ruckdaschel said.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, the WDHS addressed their plans on publishing business names.

"Through those conversations, we decided that we certainly would not be doing that this week," Palm said.

But the statement has drawn some confusion as to what "This Week" means.

"Beyond that, we don't know," Ruckdaschel said.

We reached out to the WDHS to clarify their statements.

In an e-mail response they said in part quote, "On background, the Secretary's comments were referring to the media asking about us publishing this week. We have no immediate plans to list businesses with COVID-19 positives on our website."

With no immediate plans, there still remains some uncertainty for Wisconsin businesses as to if their names could ever be published in the future.

All they can do is remain transparent and follow guidelines.

"Being clear on your communications and what you're doing and what safety protocols you are following. I think is always a good practice of any business," Ruckdaschel said.

Some Business owners say they will pursue legal action against DHS if their brand is tarnished by the release of inaccurate or false information tying their name to alleged COVID-19 infections.

John Cardinale

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