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Evers issues order limiting mass gatherings in Wisconsin

The order goes into effect Thursday and ends Nov. 6.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Public Television)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Health Secretary Andrea Palm issued an emergency order Tuesday, Oct. 6 restricting indoor public gatherings to 25% of a room or building’s total capacity.

The order goes into effect Thursday and ends Nov. 6. Spaces that are exempt include universities, schools, child care settings, polling locations, medical facilities, churches and grocery stores. The order is intended to slow a surge of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which is straining contact tracing efforts and hospital staffing throughout the state.

“At the end of the day, we have to change the course of this virus,” Evers said.

The governor encouraged residents to stay home as much as possible, restrict the number of trips to the store and limit contacts with people outside their household in addition to wearing a mask in public, washing hands frequently and getting tested if they have symptoms.

Statewide numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. The Department of Health Services reported an increase of 2,020 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18 new deaths in the state Tuesday. The seven-day average of new daily cases of the virus is 2,346, up from 836 one month ago.


The safety net the state has built to deal with COVID-19 since March, including increased contact tracing and testing capacity as well as surge planning, is no longer able to keep up with the rapid rise of cases, Palm said. The virus is straining the workforce in hospitals, nursing homes and correctional facilities.

“Unless we break this transition, unless we change our trajectory and get back on track and see our cases go down, we will overwhelm those systems,” Palm said. “That is what we talked about in March. That is the absolute place we don’t want to be. We’ve done all of these things to try to prevent getting there and we are now closer to that scenario than we ever have been.”

The limit on mass gatherings is not arbitrary, but a targeted effort to stop the virus’ intense, community-wide spread.

“We absolutely see transmission among indoor gatherings and we have throughout,” Palm said. “This virus is very opportunistic, and it will find ways to spread if we give it that opportunity.”

She encouraged public health officials to enact other restrictions as needed.

Reporters questioned whether the new order would be challenged in court by conservative legislators or groups, like Evers’ extension of the Safer at Home order.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said he expected the order would face legal challenges.

The new order, however, is very targeted and leans on a Department of Health Services authority that was not overruled by the Supreme Court when it struck down the Safer at Home extension in May, Westergaard said.


Evers on Tuesday also announced a $100 million investment of CARES Act funds in businesses, including $50 million for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s “We’re All In” grant program, $20 million for the state's lodging industry, $15 million for live music and performance venues and $10 million for privately-owned movie theaters. Visit the Wisconsin Department of Revenue site to apply for a "We're All In" small business grant.

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