Janesville resident Nick Moore watched in wonder as a bartender prepared to pour him a Long Island iced tea in the lobby of Wildwood Theatres’ Movies 16.
Moore, 23, was about to take in a big-screen showing of “Jurassic Park,” a 27-year-old blockbuster that in the summer of 1993 had netted more than $900 million at the box office.
This is not the summer of 1993. And on a Tuesday night, the sci-fi dinosaur attack film—released four years before Moore was born—was being shown free to a noticeably thin crowd in one of six active theater rooms at Movies 16.
Along with any snacks he might have bought at the concessions counter, Moore’s $10 cocktail, served in the brand-new Red Carpet Lounge, represented the theater’s lone revenue stream right now: drinks and snacks.
Movies 16 is one of just a few theaters in the region to reopen, and it’s done so by screening free films.
General Manager Sarah Lehr said crowds have been disappointingly thin since Movies 16’s reopening over the Fourth of July weekend.
“It was a rough weekend open,” she said. “We’ve not seen the attendance that we wanted. It’s down, down to the point you can’t even compare it to other summers when you might have seen attendance down. We’re just in a totally different environment than anything anybody’s ever seen.”
The coronavirus pandemic has continued to dampen consumers’ entertainment spending outside the home, both locally and nationwide. In addition, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases around the country has slowed many communities’ efforts to reopen, particularly in Arizona, California, Texas and Florida.
The uncertainty has prompted film studios to delay the release of major films slated for this summer. That has made theater chains such as AMC Theaters, which closed early in the pandemic, pull back on plans to reopen.
At Movies 16, Moore could pick practically any seat to see “Jurassic Park.” He was one of just a half-dozen patrons who took in the free film on a Tuesday night—well below the 50% occupancy limit the theater has imposed under its reopening plan.
During the three months Movies 16 was closed this spring, independent theater owner Wildwood launched a flurry of deep-cleaning procedures, seating revamps and the construction of a cocktail lounge.
Lehr said the theater reopened now, in part, to begin drawing revenue to cover the cost of the renovations and new lounge, where patrons can order beer, wine and mixed drinks to take with them into some of the auditoriums.
The lounge has been in the works for a year as the theater sought ways to update its operations and image and cultivate new clientele at a time when streaming services have undercut the industry.
Free classic movies, which the theater has the rights to run for one week, serve to keep Movies 16 afloat while it’s still unclear when new movies might be released.
By this weekend, the half-dozen classic movies currently playing will be replaced by others, including the granddaddy of all summer blockbusters, the 1975 film “Jaws.”
Lehr said that by next week, the theater will add an “up-charge”—likely $4—for the classic films.
Some films have drawn a younger crowd for evening showings, Lehr said, a trend that follows what local taverns have seen as they’ve reopened during the pandemic. But it defies a notion in the film industry that younger generations eschew theaters in favor of at-home streaming services.
“It’s fun to go to a theater and watch movies my parents checked out,” said Moore, the 23-year-old moviegoer. “The chance to see these movies on the big screen, especially for free, it’s great. I can say I saw ‘The Goonies’ in the theater like my parents did. That’s really cool.
“After months, I’m just excited to get out of the house, to get out and do something and see something.”
Lehr said her theater had been set to reopen in mid-June, partly because residents had been asking for it.
“There are no summer sports, no summer festivals, no summer events. We’re trying to provide something for families that don’t have much at all to do,” she said.
Reopening during the pandemic came with additional labor costs for cleaning and running the cocktail lounge, Lehr said. The theater also has a few other restrictions that would feel unwieldy if not for a sense of necessity. For instance, there is no self-service on popcorn and drink fills. Concessions workers handle all filling of food orders.
Those measures are an attempt to show that the theater is trying to keep moviegoers as safe as possible, Lehr said.
The theater also has suspended free popcorn and drink refills. Lehr said the move is to limit hand-to-hand contact between customers and staff as a public health measure during the pandemic.
Lehr said she “has faith” that movie theaters will begin to see crowds.
Film industry insiders believe the major studios are poised this month to unveil when they plan to release dozens of films that have been held back.
Lehr said word from the studios would help a lot.
“I don’t think anybody can survive showing nothing but old movies for another three or four months, but I’m hopeful. I’m crossing my fingers,” she said. “The only thing I really don’t want to hear from the studios is, ‘We’re not putting anything out until Christmas.’”
One film delayed until late fall is the latest installment in the James Bond series.
Movies 16 employee Seve Salinas said the film’s title has been a running joke among the staff because of its ironic double meaning in the COVID-19 era.
“The original poster just read in big letters: ‘No Time to Die,’” Salinas said. “I mean, I’m sure they named it ‘No Time to Die’ before all this happened. But still …”
This story was modified from an earlier version which inaccurately stated Movies 16's current policy on snack and drink refills. The theater has temporarily shuttered its customer self-serve kiosks and at this time is no longer offering free refills of popcorn and drinks.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of a Trump administration regulation that would free employers from providing contraceptives to their employees if they have a religious or moral objection, potentially leaving more than 120,000 women with no coverage.
In the 7-2 decision, the court goes further than before in shielding companies, colleges and charities from the part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, that requires employers with more than 50 employees to pay the cost of preventive health care, including the full range of contraceptives.
The ruling is a clear win for the Trump administration and religious conservatives, but it is not a final victory. The case will return to an appeals court in Philadelphia, which had blocked the regulation but has not considered all of the possible procedural objections.
In the past, the court had ruled in favor of religious employers and private companies that claimed an exemption based on their religion, including the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. But then the justices also upheld an accommodation proposed by the Obama administration under which the health insurers would step in and provide contraceptives for female workers. The insurers agreed to do so because providing birth control would cost less than paying for a pregnancy and delivery.
But some religious conservatives objected to that approach because it would make them “complicit in sin” if their insurers were involved in providing the contraceptives.
The Trump administration proposed a broader rule to cover more employers and exempt them entirely from the Obamacare regulation. The administration conceded the new regulation, if put into effect, could take away contraceptive coverage from 120,000 women or more.
The rule had been blocked on the grounds that the Department of Health and Human Services did not have the authority to make exemptions to the preventive care law and that the administration did not follow proper procedures.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said both conclusions were wrong: “We hold today that the departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”
Thomas was joined by the other four conservative justices, while Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan concurred in the outcome. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
Ginsburg said the court had wrongly tipped the balance too far in favor of religious claims at the expense of the rights of female employees.
Ignoring what Congress did in protecting women’s health, “this court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” she said.
State attorneys in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California sued to challenge the rule, and it was blocked by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
Wednesday’s decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania rejected all the reasons cited by the 3rd Circuit for blocking the new rule. But the appeals court did not decide whether the rule was “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
So while Thomas and four of the conservative justices upheld the Trump administration’s approach, they could not put the rule into effect immediately.
In her concurring opinion, Kagan said it was a close call whether the 2010 law allowed for such a religious exemption and said she was willing to defer to the government agency. But she said the rule still might not pass muster on procedural grounds. The government did not provide a “reasoned explanation” for its decision to give a broader exemption than before, she said.
“This fight is not over,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “While I am disappointed with much of the majority opinion, I am pleased the court allowed our challenge to the administration’s overly broad rules to proceed.”
Maureen Ferguson, a senior fellow for the Catholic Association, said the “Little Sisters of the Poor engage in the noblest of front-line health care work, selflessly caring for the elderly poor in nursing homes; yet for seven years they have been legally harassed by the Obama-Biden administration and other government officials in an attempt to force them to distribute abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans. Today the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration had the authority to grant an exemption for the Little Sisters and other conscientious objectors.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the court’s decision to “enable the Trump administration’s brutal assault on women’s health, financial security and independence is a fundamental misreading of the statute. The Affordable Care Act was explicitly designed to prevent discrimination against women and to ensure that women have access to preventive care, including contraception.”
Determined to reopen America’s schools despite coronavirus worries, President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.
Shortly afterward, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be issuing new guidance next week “that will give all new tools to our schools.” The recommendations will keep students safe, he said, but “the president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough.”
Despite Trump’s increased pressure on state and local officials, New York City announced that most of its students would return to classrooms only two or three days a week and would learn online in between.
“Most schools will not be able to have all their kids in school at the same time,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
For a nation that prides itself on its public school system, it’s an extraordinary situation in this pandemic year.
With millions of the nation’s parents anxious about their children’s safety in the fall—and their own work interruptions if they must stay home—Trump continued to inject politics into public health. He accused Democrats yet again of wanting to keep schools closed for election-year reasons rather than health concerns. And he issued a veiled threat to CDC officials over their reopening guidelines, tweeting, “I will be meeting with them!!!”
Elsewhere in the nation, many states continued to confront a resurgence of the virus, which has claimed more than 130,000 lives in the U.S. But safety obstacles in schools can be surmounted, Trump insisted, and reopening “is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
He did not say what funding he would pull, but Pence suggested at a coronavirus task force briefing that future COVID-19 relief bills could be tied to reopening schools as one way “to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back in school.”
On Twitter, Trump argued that countries including Germany, Denmark and Norway have reopened schools “with no problems.”
Germany did begin to reopen its schools in May, but in many cases students are taking turns going to school and studying at home for half the week—just the thing that administration officials have criticized. German authorities are aiming for classes to resume in close-to-normal fashion after the summer vacation.
Trump’s Twitter warnings drew backlash from some governors who said he has no authority over schools’ fall plans. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said officials will reopen when it’s safe to do so.
“School reopenings are a state decision, period,” he said at a news conference. “That is the law, and that is the way we are going to proceed. It’s not up to the president of the United States.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted, “Our schools & child care providers need MORE federal funding—not less—to be able to safely open.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made reopening schools a priority to help parents get back to work, and he said Wednesday he supports CDC guidance to help that happen.
Senate Democrats have proposed $430 billion for schools and child care providers as part of the next aid package to be debated in Congress later this month. McConnell, too, has suggested more money for schools will be needed.
Trump made his threat a day after launching an all-out effort pressing state and local officials to reopen the nation’s schools and colleges this fall. At a White House event Tuesday, health and education officials argued that keeping students out for the fall semester would pose greater health risks than any tied to the coronavirus.
Among those pushing for a fall reopening was the chief of the CDC. But Trump on Wednesday complained the agency’s school opening guidelines were too tough and costly.
“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump wrote.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, has emphasized that his agency’s guidelines are only recommendations.
“I want to make it very clear that what is not the intent of CDC’s guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed,” he said at Wednesday’s coronavirus task force briefing, which was held at the Education Department.
The CDC’s guidance recommends that students and teachers wear masks whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of cafeterias and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.
Trump did not clarify which of the guidelines he opposed. But a White House spokeswoman later offered an example, saying the president takes issue with the CDC’s suggestion that students bring their own meals to school when feasible.
“There are 22 million children in this country who depend on these meals at schools, who depend on access to nutrition in schools,” Kayleigh McEnany said.
Democrats slammed the president over his threats and warned him to keep out of the CDC’s work. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, ranking Democrat on the Education Committee, said the agency needs to be trusted to make decisions based on scientific evidence, “not on President Trump’s Twitter outbursts.”
At the task force briefing, and a day earlier in a call with the nation’s governors, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said anything less than a full reopening would be a failure for students and taxpayers. But some of the nation’s largest districts plan to bring back limited numbers of students for only a few days a week, saying it would be unsafe for all to return at once.
DeVos singled out Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, which are asking families to decide between fully remote instruction or two days a week at school.
“A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” she said, according to audio of the call with governors obtained by The Associated Press.
In announcing New York City’s plan for in-person instruction two or three days a week, de Blasio said schools can’t accommodate all their students at any one time while maintaining social distancing. The city’s public school system, with 1.1 million students, is by far the nation’s largest.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said, “Educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms and on college campuses with our students, but we must do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued guidelines suggesting that districts aim to start the academic year with students “physically present in school.” Keeping students at home can lead to social isolation, the organization said, and prevent schools from identifying learning deficits, abuse, depression and other issues.
David R. Brosky
Barbara Marie Farnum
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Doretta “Sis” Stewart
Larry was feeling fatigued for about a week and had a pain in his side.
The Janesville man suspected he might have COVID-19 and started looking for a place to get tested.
He called CVS Pharmacy in Beloit, which is offering free tests, but it was booked.
The Rock County Public Health Department suggested Wednesday he take advantage of free testing in Walworth County next week, he said.
“They said you’ve just got to drive a little bit, but you get it free there. Is that Rock County’s answer to COVID-19 is to tell you to go get a test at a different county?” he said.
Larry asked that his last name not be published because he doesn’t want to be identified as somebody who is looking for a COVID-19 test.
He didn’t get a test Wednesday but said he was starting to feel better.
“I mowed the lawn today,” he said.
Several public and private testing options are available in Rock, Walworth and Dane counties, but health officials advise patients to first consider their symptoms, insurance coverage and financial situation.
Those who get tested in a hospital or clinic setting should expect some kind of bill for a test, visit or both, depending on insurance coverage, said representatives of three of Rock County’s four health care systems.
State health officials recommend testing for people who are asymptomatic but who believe they have been exposed to the virus or plan to be in social settings.
Hospital officials recommend those without symptoms seek public testing sites.
Such sites, manned by the National Guard, have appeared around the state in recent months. No public testing sites are open in Rock County, but two will open in Walworth County in coming weeks.
Any Wisconsin resident age 5 or older is eligible for testing at any public testing site across the state, according to Walworth County’s health department.
There are no current plans to set up a public testing site in Rock County, said Molly Nolte, a city of Janesville spokeswoman.
In May, the National Guard collected more than 2,400 tests during a testing event in Beloit.
A map with free public testing sites is available at the state Department of Health Services website and is updated regularly.
Here are details on where and how to get tested in Rock, Walworth and Dane counties.
These free public testing sites will be available in Walworth County:
Public testing remains available at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison:
Drive-thru and walk-up testing are available. The site will remain open through at least Aug. 31.
CVS Pharmacy, 2149 Prairie Ave., Beloit, offers free drive-thru testing for people who are symptomatic or who have been exposed.
Those looking to be tested must sign up for an appointment and fill out a questionnaire online prior to being tested.
Walk-ins will not be accepted because of limited supplies, according to the pharmacy’s website.
The website says results might take five to seven days to be returned because of high demand.
Mercyhealth officials urge those experiencing symptoms to call their physicians or clinics, spokeswoman Trish Reed said in an email to The Gazette.
Patients also can speak to a provider via a virtual visit or the health care system’s COVID-19 nursing hotline at 833-648-0057.
Mercyhealth testing is not free. Results are typically returned in 24 to 48 hours, Reed said.
People can receive a free virtual medical evaluation online at ssmhealth .com. They will be directed to the nearest SSM Health testing site if the provider deems it appropriate, spokeswoman Erica Mathis said in an email.
Patients should check with their insurance providers on potential visit-related costs, Mathis said.
Test results usually are returned within 72 hours, she said.
Those experiencing symptoms can visit Edgerton Hospital’s Emergency/Urgent Care facility to be evaluated.
Patients will be billed for an emergency/urgent care visit, hospital spokeswoman Sunny Bowditch told The Gazette.
People are encouraged to call their doctors before visiting. Tests can be administered for asymptomatic patients in the outpatient lab area and will be billed as a lab visit, Bowditch said.
The Doctor’s Office in Janesville and Darien offers testing for $130 per test, according to its website.
The clinics do not accept insurance. Cash, check, credit or debit payment is collected at the time of the visit.
Patients are advised to call first to determine testing availability.