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Wisconsin governor restricts public indoor gatherings as COVID spikes

Governor Tony Evers issued a new, more restrictive order on Tuesday to limit indoor public gatherings.

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers' administration has issued a new order limiting the size of public indoor gatherings to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

Wisconsin has become one of the nation's hot spots for the disease over the last month as colleges and schools reopened, and fatigue over wearing masks and social distancing has grown.

The order issued Tuesday limits public indoor gatherings to 25% of the room or building's capacity. Gatherings in indoor spaces without an occupancy limit is limited to 10 people. 

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” said Gov. Evers 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 goes into effect at 8 a.m. on Thursday and will remain in effect until Nov. 6. Evers' attorney says he's confident the restrictions will withstand any legal challenge. 

Across the river from the Twin Cities, the governor's order surprised restaurant owner Pete Foster, who runs three establishments in downtown Hudson. 

"I was shocked," he said. "I was caught off guard."

Foster said the 25-percent capacity limit will restrict his restaurants to roughly 20 or 30 people for indoor dining, including at San Pedro Cafe, where he just added plexiglass dividers and thick curtains (among other measures) to improve safety indoors.

Although he described the latest order as a wake-up call for people to take COVID-19 seriously, Foster said he worries about his viability if the 25-percent figure remains in place past November.

"That, along with our curbside business, just won't support us," Foster said. "It won't pay the bills." 

On Tuesday the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported 2,020 new confirmed cases of COVID-19; 18 additional deaths, and the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is now 2,346, up from 836 one month ago. According to DHS’ Disease Activity dashboard, 45 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. DHS says this means Wisconsin residents should assume they will likely be exposed to the virus if they leave home, and should practice all safety precautions.

  • Stay home whenever possible;
  • Wear a mask;
  • Wash your hands frequently;
  • If you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, get tested;
  • Get the flu shot to help reduce the strain on healthcare systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Challenge misinformation and talk to friends and families about the importance of these safety precautions.