State Street might not look that different than last year at first glance — cop cars cruising up and down the street, groups of yellow-vested officers lining the sidewalk and students walking around in costume.
But this year, officers weren’t looking for Freakfest-related infractions or drug use. They were on the lookout for social gatherings.
“There will not be any festivities or any other City-permitted event the weekend of Oct. 31, 2020,” the Madison Police Department stated in a letter to area residents. “House parties and other gatherings contrary to the order will not be tolerated.”
Freakfest, the traditional multiple-day spooktacular in downtown Madison, was confirmed to be canceled earlier this month by Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley, while Public Health Madison & Dane County asked residents to avoid all Halloween celebrations. The MPD made preparations ahead of the holiday weekend to curb said gatherings.
The department announced its plans earlier this month to cite anyone violating Dane County’s Emergency Order #9 with “Creating/Permitting a Health Nuisance,” which carries a price tag of $376 for first-time offenders, with a promise to enforce underage drinking and dispensing alcohol ordinances at all unlawful gatherings.
“It is important that we don’t welcome revelers in large groups, as those gatherings will violate Public Health regulations and endanger both those gatherings and our whole community. Stay safe and stay home,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stated.
The threat of citations appears to have done its job, as no incident reports were published by the MPD regarding disturbances, public intoxication or health nuisances in the downtown area over the weekend.
Public Health reminded residents that those that do attend gatherings to limit indoor events to 10 people, not including household members, and limit outdoor private gatherings to 25 people. To further comply with the county’s emergency order, all attendees of an indoor event must wear masks.
Roaming groups of students kept their numbers well under the health department’s outdoor gathering limit of 25, while most house parties seemed to limit party attendees to residents and select guests.
Still, many students were not even comfortable attending parties following the “legal” requirements.
K, a student who wishes to remain anonymous, attended a party at a friend’s apartment with nine people in attendance, including those that lived there. She left shortly after arriving.
“No one was really wearing their mask but me. I was definitely uncomfortable as soon as I walked in,” K said. “I dipped out after they wanted to play a drinking game that I didn’t think was COVID-19 safe.”
Despite precautions and no recorded incidents of public health violations, UW-Madison’s 7-day average for new COVID cases during the Halloween weekend is the highest it's been since the end of September, at just over 30 cases.