Gov. Evers issues new order limiting public gatherings to no more than 25% capacity

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Updated: 6:02 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – With parts of Wisconsin among the worst hotspots in the country for COVID-19 cases and the state’s health care system being pushed to its limits, the Evers administration is issuing a new order to restrict indoor public gatherings with hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus.

“There’s no other way to say it, we are overwhelmed,” Governor Tony Evers said in a video conference.

Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said the state is in a worse position today than it was in March.

“We’re having trouble keeping up with the rapid rise in cases that we’re seeing in this state,” Palm said warning a lack of action now would push hospitals and other health care systems beyond capacity. “Unless we break this transmission, unless we change our trajectory and get back on track and see cases go down, we will overwhelm those systems.”

The new order goes into effect the morning of Oct. 8 and limits indoor public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of a room or building’s total occupancy. It is aimed primarily at restaurants, bars and other businesses that allow public entry. There are several exceptions like grocery stores, places of worship, school, polling places and political rallies.

Previous orders from the Evers administration meant to address the ongoing pandemic have faced legal challenges from Republicans and conservative groups and another one is likely with this most recent order.

“We would expect to have a challenge in the court and we believe we can overcome that challenge,” Evers told reporters.

CBS 58 reached out to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) but did not immediately hear back.

Sen. Steve Nass (R – Whitewater) released a statement calling on Vos and Fitzgerald to call the Legislature in for a vote to strike down the order. However, with previous orders, GOP leadership has not shown an appetite to do so. Democrats believe it is because Republicans who are up for re-election in vulnerable districts do not want to take a vote on the issue, fearing it would cause a loss of support.

In a conference on Oct. 1, Gov. Evers said he had not reached out to Republican leadership in regards to implementing policies to address the current surge in COVID-19 cases because he did not believe their position had changed on the topic. Still, Republicans have not presented any plan of their own to deal with the coronavirus. Evers said he is not waiting on them to do so.

“Haven’t seen [the Republican plan],” Evers said. “Hopefully it arrives soon but in the meantime, we are going to continue to insist that we have to lead.”

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Posted: 1:34 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, Oct. 6, directed Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to issue Emergency Order #3 limiting public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of a room or building’s total occupancy. 

This directive is effective at 8 a.m. on Oct. 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. A frequently asked questions document is available for review here.

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” said Gov. Evers. “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.”

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,” said DHS Secretary-designee Palm. “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.”

See full the order and list of exemptions below: 

Tuesday, 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. This means Wisconsinites should assume they will likely be exposed to the virus if they leave home and should practice all safety precautions.

Wisconsinites should take the following steps to stay safe and help stop the spread of COVID-19:

  • 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.
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