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A municipal sign in the City of Greenfield reminds drivers to Stay Home and Save Lives on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the first full day after Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Scott Ash/NOW News Group) A municipal sign in the City of Greenfield reminds drivers to Stay Home and Save Lives on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the first full day after Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Scott Ash/NOW News Group)

A municipal sign in the City of Greenfield reminds drivers to Stay Home and Save Lives on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the first full day after Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Scott Ash/NOW News Group)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke March 27, 2020

Has Gov. Tony Evers banned family dinners amid Wisconsin’s coronavirus pandemic? Yes and no

If Your Time is short

  • The key here is what Stroebel’s tweet didn’t say – that five of the children he referenced were adults living on their own.

  • Evers’ order does indeed ban gatherings of immediate family members in different households.

It’s hard to find something that hasn’t changed in Wisconsin amid the coronavirus pandemic — work, school, church, home.

On the eve of Gov. Tony Evers’ "Safer at Home" order limiting all non-essential movement, a Republican lawmaker lamented the last item on that list.

"Laura, my eight children and I are enjoying our last legal dinner together this evening from our spring break staycation," state Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said in a March 24, 2020, tweet.

Evers’ 16-page order — which took effect March 25, 2020 — has sweeping consequences throughout the state, but does it really ban family dinners?

Let’s take a closer look.

Key detail left out

At first glance, Stroebel’s claim to legal limitations within his home might sound off base. The order explicitly makes an allowance for family units.

It says Wisconsinites "do not need to maintain social distancing between family members in a single living unit or household members." A later section adds, "Nothing in this Order prohibits the gathering of members of a single household or living unit."

But it turns out Stroebel wasn’t referencing a single household.

John Soper, Stroebel’s chief of staff, said in an email the senator’s eight children range in age from 14 to 29. Only three of those children live at home, while five have their own residences.

"Governor Evers mentioned specifically ‘dinner parties’ as an activity that must stop under the new Order," Soper said. "Senator Stroebel put out this tweet to highlight that there is no exemption for meeting immediate family (adult children, grandparents etc.), but there is for places like liquor stores and dry cleaners."

That changes the analysis dramatically.

Order bans combining households – even for family

Indeed, there is no blanket exception to social distancing requirements for extended or even immediate family members if they live separately.

Here’s the key line from Evers’ order: "All public and private gatherings of any number of people that are not part of a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited purposes expressly permitted in this Order."

Those "limited purposes" include things like providing care or transport for the health and safety of someone in another household.

"Large family dinners that include people who do not live together are prohibited," said Melissa Baldauff, Evers’ spokeswoman.

She said it’s a requirement that affects everyone, including Evers.

"That’s really hard on extended families, we get it," she said in an email. "The governor’s grown kids and their families aren’t coming to visit him and the first lady at the executive residence right now.

"But that’s the sacrifice we are asking of everyone in this state. Stay home and limit the number of people you have contact with. This kind of distancing is one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the disease."

Our ruling

Stroebel said in a tweet before the stay-at-home order that he was having his "last legal dinner" with his wife and eight children.

Though this is technically true for Stroebel’s family, people reading this tweet could well take away that their own one-household family can’t get together to eat. To that extent, the tweet is misleading. 

There’s a key difference between families that still live together under the same roof and those like Stroebel’s with adult children – to the point that Evers’ order allows one and bans the other.

So Stroebel is accurate, but only if you take into account key details that weren’t included in his tweet.

That’s our definition of Half True.

Our Sources

Duey Stroebel, twitter, March 24, 2020

Tony Evers, Executive Order #12, Safer at Home Order, March 24, 2020

Email exchange with John Soper, chief of staff for Duey Stroebel, March 25, 2020

Email exchange with Melissa Baldauff, spokeswoman for Tony Evers, March 25-26, 2020

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More by Eric Litke

Has Gov. Tony Evers banned family dinners amid Wisconsin’s coronavirus pandemic? Yes and no

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