Wisconsin bans gatherings of 10 or more

Social distancing is intended to slow community spread of the disease.

A model of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. U.S. health officials have stated that COVID-19 is expected to become a significant public health concern in the United States. (Illustration courtesy of Centers for Disease Control)
Contributed / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In response to the rapidly-evolving COVID-19 situation, gatherings of 10 or more people are now prohibited in the state of Wisconsin. The move comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state jumped to 72.

The order, issued Tuesday, March 17 by Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm under the direction of Gov. Tony Evers, is intended to slow the spread of the disease.

“Our top priority at this time is to keep Wisconsinites safe and healthy by reducing the spread of COVID-19, especially for those who are considered high-risk. With limited tests available nationwide and continued community spread, we have to take every precaution to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors,” Evers said in a statement. “I know what this means for our small business owners and the struggles they and their workers will face in the coming weeks, but we are committed to working with our federal partners, state officials, and stakeholders to ensure we are doing everything we can to assist during these uncertain times.”

The order makes exceptions for transportation, educational institutions, child care, hotels, military, law enforcement, food pantries, hospitals, long-term care facilities, grocery stores and convenience stores, utility facilities, job centers and courts.

Restaurants and bars can only offer take-out or delivery. The full order and list of exemptions can be found online .


Additionally, schools will be closed for the duration of the public health emergency.

Community spread

Cases reported on Tuesday, March 17 in Milwaukee, Dane and Kenosha counties indicate community spread of COVID-19 is happening in Wisconsin, Evers said.

That means people are testing positive who have had no exposure to a known case and who have not traveled to a location where there is known community spread. Social distancing is intended to protect individuals, their families and their community from increased risk of exposure.

The total number of confirmed cases in the state rose to 72 on Tuesday, March 17, according to the state Department of Health Services . Milwaukee has the highest number at 24 confirmed cases, followed by Dane County at 19 and Fond du Lac County at 11. A total of 1,038 tests for the virus have come back negative.

Currently, the number of COVID-19 tests being received exceeds the state lab’s capacity. The state lab and Department of Health Services will be prioritizing two tiers of cases for testing, including critically ill patients in the ICU, hospitalized patients with a known exposure to the disease, people who are hospitalized with unexplained fever and symptoms of a lower respiratory illness and health care workers with the same symptoms, regardless of hospitalization.

Patients without symptoms and patients with mild upper respiratory symptoms who are not health care workers should not be tested to ensure that there is capacity to test ill people.

State patrol steps up

The Wisconsin State Patrol has been ordered to assist with the growing need to deliver COVID-19 test kits and samples to designated labs. The order was issued Tuesday, March 17 by Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee, at the direction of Gov. Tony Evers.

“State Patrol officers across the state stand ready to assist in any way necessary with the evolving public health emergency,” Thompson said. “In addition to their daily tasks of ensuring safety on Wisconsin’s highways, our troopers facilitate the transport of COVID-19 samples and test kits when requested by the (State Emergency Operations Center).”


Courier services associated with hospitals and the state Hygiene Lab are the first point of contact to transport test kits and samples to their destinations. However, the State Patrol is preparing for the possibility that these “first tier” couriers could become overwhelmed. If a testing facility cannot transport a kit or sample, the request is forwarded to the State Patrol representative at the SEOC.

Through coordination with the SEOC, the State Patrol transported a sample from a nursing home facility to the hygiene lab in Madison, on Saturday, March 14, according to WisDOT.

“As always, our top priority is public safety and that includes assisting federal, state and local partners whenever we’re called upon,” WisDOT State Patrol Colonel Tim Carnahan said.

Preventing illness is key

People should follow simple steps to prevent illness and avoid exposure to this virus including:

  • Avoid social gatherings with people of all ages (including playdates and sleepovers, parties, large family dinners, visitors in your home, non-essential workers in your house);

  • Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water;

  • Cover coughs and sneezes;

  • Avoid touching your face;

  • Stay home when sick.

This is a rapidly evolving situation and the public is encouraged to monitor the DHS website for updates and to follow @DHSWI on Facebook and Twitter , or dhs.wi on Instagram . Additional information can be found on the CDC website .

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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