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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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Conservative law firm challenges Dane County health department as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

A conservative law firm has asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to immediately block Dane County’s Emergency Order #10, which was announced last week effectively banning all indoor gatherings and sports ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a petition on behalf of a business owner as well as two parents who claim that canceling sports will hurt their children’s physical and mental health. While Public Health Madison & Dane County has not yet commented on the situation, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has called the institute’s attempt at unraveling the local order “havoc.”

“Wisconsin is in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in our state's history because groups like this fought masks and social distancing for months, sowing chaos that's now resulted in overflowing hospitals,” Parisi said in a statement. 

The order in question put a halt to in-person games, sports, competitions, group exercise classes, meetings, movies and events beginning Nov. 18, all of which are defined as mass gatherings by Public Health. WILL argues that the decision to ban gatherings during a health crisis should be made by the Dane County Board or Madison City Council, not the health department.

“The latest order from the health department in Dane County illustrates why a single, unelected and unaccountable health official should not be allowed to rule unilaterally by decree,” said WILL President Rick Esenberg. “COVID-19 should be taken seriously. But these decisions must be made by the local governing body.”

Director of Public Health Janel Heinrich enacted the order in response to Dane County’s steady increase in COVID-19 cases as well as rising hospitalization rates. As of Nov. 14, some Madison hospitals including UW Health, SSM Health and St. Mary's Hospital have postponed surgeries to increase their respective ICU capacities.

Parisi holds that the situation in Dane County will not improve unless its emergency orders are left in place. 

“Dane County will vigorously defend its orders because it is the right thing to do for people who are giving their all right now,” Parisi concluded. 

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