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Gov issues emergency order limiting business capacity & indoor gatherings

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MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers today directed Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to issue an order limiting public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of a room or building’s total occupancy, according to a news release.

This directive is effective at 8 a.m. on October 8 2020, and will remain in effect until Nov. 6, 2020, and applies to any gatherings at locations that are open to the public such as stores, restaurants, and other businesses that allow public entry, as well as spaces with ticketed events.

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” Evers said in a statement. “We are continuing to experience a surge in cases and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus. Folks, we need your help and we need all Wisconsinites to work together during this difficult time. The sooner we get control of this virus, the sooner our economy, communities, and state can bounce back.”

The order applies to indoor spaces that are open to the public, but not areas that aren’t open to the public such as warehouses and factory floors. Schools, churches, government facilities, health care facilities, and private events are exempt.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi applauded the action in a statement this afternoon.

“I … strongly caution the legislature to pause before making a knee-jerk, political response to this prudent and necessary step the Governor has taken,” Parisi said. “It’s long past due to take the politics out of this pandemic—people are needlessly getting sick and dying because denial and scoring political points have taken precedence over public health and safety. We are talking about keeping people alive.”

It’s not clear how the new order will be enforced, and Republican legislators have not responded. The legislature sued to end Evers’ “Safer at Home” order in May.

Earlier today, the governor also announced an additional $100 million in support for Wisconsin’s small businesses, including lodging, event venues, and others in the tourism industry, who are struggling in the wake of the pandemic without additional federal supports.

“The unfortunate reality is this: the disease activity level of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is so high that going to a gathering puts you at very high risk of exposure,” Palm said in a statement. “We know gatherings are a key way this virus spreads, so we must act to limit indoor gatherings to stop the spread, reduce illness, and save lives.”

Today, DHS reported an increase of 2,020 confirmed cases of COVID-19; 18 new deaths, and the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 2,346, up from 836 one month ago. According to DHS’ Disease Activity dashboard and as of Sept. 30, 2020, 45 of Wisconsin counties meet the threshold of a very high disease activity level, which means that there are more than 350 cases per 100,000 people in that county. All other counties reported high case activity levels.

“Wisconsinites should assume they will likely be exposed to the virus if they leave home and should practice all safety precautions,” the governor’s office press release said.