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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Gov. Tony Evers and DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm announced a new order limiting public gatherings to no more than 25 percent capacity. The Wisconsin Medical Society supported the measure while some businesses expressed concerns about the economic impact. 

Evers orders new limits on public gatherings amid COVID-19 outbreaks

Gov. Tony Evers directed Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm on Tuesday to issue an emergency order limiting gatherings in many public buildings to no more than 25 percent of the total occupancy limit.

The order will go into effect on Oct. 8 and will remain in effect until Nov. 6. The order applies to gatherings that are open to the public including stores, restaurants and other businesses. Schools, colleges and universities are exempt from the order, along with outdoor spaces. Local governments may enact local orders that are at the same restriction level or are more restrictive than the order. More answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Gov. Evers addressed the growing number of cases across Wisconsin in his briefing Tuesday. 

“Since we spoke last Thursday, more than 9,000 Wisconsinites have tested positive for COVID-19 and since I sat here a week ago Tuesday, we have lost 98 of our family members, friends and neighbors,” Evers said.

Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health Services Ryan Westergaard explained that the order will help limit density in indoor spaces, which would in turn limit the spread of COVID-19. 

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

Eight Wisconsin metro areas are in The New York Times top 20 list for the greatest number of new COVID-19 cases. The list includes Oshkosh, Green Bay, Appleton, Marinette, Manitowoc, Platteville, Sheboygan and Fond Du Lac. Palm discussed concern over the medical industry’s ability to support the rising cases of individuals with COVID-19. 

“Every region [in Wisconsin] is reporting current and imminent hospital staffing shortages in one or more of their facilities,” Palm said in the briefing. 

Evers urged Wisconsinites to act responsibly as COVID-19 outbreaks worsen. 

“At the end of the day, this is not about WILL vs. Evers, Republicans vs. Democrats or whatever. It is about individual responsibility,” Evers stated. Conservatives have mounted legal challenges to the governor’s past executive actions to address the pandemic.

Locally, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi issued a statement in support of Evers’ new order, saying that the order mirrors the steps taken to mitigate the spread in Dane County. 

“I applaud today's action by Governor Evers and 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.”

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The Wisconsin Medical Society, an association of medical doctors in Wisconsin, also supported Evers’ order, citing that some Wisconsin hospitals are nearing capacity.

“What’s happening in our state right now with COVID-19 cases is alarming. Record numbers of hospitalizations means many of our hospitals are nearing overall capacity — and that threatens everyone’s access to health care when they might need it the most,” Wisconsin Medical Society Board of Directors Chair Jerry Halverson said in a press release.  

However, some business associations and legislators are worried that the new order will further hurt businesses that have struggled during the pandemic.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer voiced concerns that the order would “economically punish” the state’s employers. 

“Wisconsin businesses have taken countless steps to protect their employees, customers and the public from day one of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bauer said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Evers’ order will cause even more harm to already-suffering businesses while failing to actually slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.” 

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, also expressed concern about restrictions on businesses. 

“The (State) Supreme Court is clear and has already ruled that the Governor is supposed to be working with the Legislature on any decisions affecting the state going forward relating to the pandemic,” Kapenga said in a statement

Evers also announced Tuesday more than $100 million in grants for small businesses and communities as they deal with economic challenges related to the pandemic. The grants will focus on hard-hit industries, including lodging, live music venues, movie theaters and non-profit cultural centers. 

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