As a statewide 'Safer At Home' order goes into effect in Wisconsin, what businesses are being defined as 'essential' businesses being allowed to stay open? While there is a lengthy list of items defined by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, here are some common highlights the public and business owners may be interested in:

Healthcare and Public Health Operations

This is pretty broadly defined to include hospitals, clinics, medical facilities, dental offices, pharmacies, eye care centers, and various other specialized medical, mental health, and other care centers. Also included are companies and organizations that are part of medical equipment manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, treatment facilities, and organizations that collect blood, platelets, plasma, and other necessary materials. See the full definition here.

Human Services Operations

This broadly includes things like long-term care and assisted living facilities, adoption agencies, businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities to economically disadvantaged individuals, individuals with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, or otherwise needy individuals. See the full definition here.

Essential Infrastructure

This includes things like food production/distribution/fulfillment centers and related transportation and storage; construction, especially related to public health, hospitals, care facilities, schools, transportation, etc.; transportation operations like airports, utilities like water, sewer, gas, electricity, solid waste and recycling collection and removal, internet, video, telecommunications, and others. See the full definition here.

Essential Government Functions

Includes things like first responders, emergency management personnel, emergency dispatchers, court personnel, jurors and grand jurors, law enforcement and corrections personnel, hazardous materials responders, child protection and child welfare personnel, housing and shelter personnel, National Guard and military. See the full definition here.

Stores That Sell Groceries and Medicine

Includes things like grocery stores, bakeries, pharmacies, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other businesses that sell retail groceries, pet supplies, prepared food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products).

These businesses do need to follow specific guidelines like closing seating areas intended for food/beverage consumption, cease self-serve salad bars/beverage stations/buffets/etc., and abide by social distancing and other guidelines, among other things. See the full definition and guidelines here. 

Food and Beverage Production and Agriculture

Includes things like food/beverage manufacturing and processing facilities, farms, fishing operations, and various other food and beverage or related supply cultivation and production. This also includes businesses that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for animals, including animal shelters, rescues, shelters, kennels, and adopting facilities. See the full definition here.


Restaurants may only remain open of they offer take-out or delivery service only. Alcohol sales must comply with section the requirements for Bars (below). Customers may enter the above establishments only for the purpose of ordering, pick up, and paying for food or beverage or both. No seating may be provided, and no consumption on premises (indoors or outdoors) is allowed. No self-dispensing of unpackaged food or beverage is allowed. Full details here.

Bars, Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries, and other Alcohol Retailers/Businesses

These businesses may stay open under certain conditions. Carryout sales of alcohol beverages and food are allowed, if permitted by state law and municipal ordinance. Delivery of alcohol beverages to retail customers is prohibited. Customers may enter these businesses only to order, pick up, or pay for purchases. No seating or consumption allowed, and no self-dispensing of unpackaged food or beverage is allowed. Full details here.

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Other Businesses

Among the many other businesses included in the "essential" definition, here are some other highlights (many subject to specific guidelines):

  • Childcare settings
  • Organizations that provide charitable and social services
  • Media
  • Gas Stations
  • Financial Institutions & Services
  • Hardware and Supply Stores
  • Mail and Shipping services
  • Hotels and Motels
  • Wedding, Funeral, or Religious Entities (except that any gathering shall include fewer than 10 people in a room or confined space and individuals shall adhere to Social Distancing Requirements as much as possible).



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