A new emergency order enacted by Public Health Madison and Dane County loosens limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings for local restaurants and bars Wednesday.
The order — which will be in effect until April 7 — has expanded the maximum size on indoor gatherings serving refreshments from 25 people to 150, gatherings without refreshments from 50 people to 350 and expanded the limit on outdoor gatherings to 500 people. This order comes in response to the county and state’s continual decreasing COVID-19 rates over the past month.
PHMDC still requires individuals to be masked when not consuming food or drink, and also mandates at least six feet of physical distance between patrons when gathering with anyone outside of the household.
In an email to the Cardinal, PHMDC Health Educator Christy Vogt said that the county’s gradual reopening of businesses is essential to maintaining a healthy environment while also aiding the local economy.
“A cautious and stepwise reopening has remained Dane County’s approach—an approach that has likely contributed to Dane County having one of the lowest case and death rates in the state despite it being a population center,” Vogt said.
The new guidelines come amid a decrease in case numbers and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 since the release of Emergency Order #13 in early February with the PHMDC reporting “record lows” in the county’s ICU admittance.
At the beginning of February, seven-day new case averages for the county were above 100 with nearly 70 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Currently, Dane County is down to 23 hospitalizations.
Vogt emphasized that vaccines have played a significant role in the declining number of COVID-19 cases and that the county’s efforts to target vulnerable populations — especially seniors — has been essential to decreasing hospitalization rates. Over 75% of Dane County residents aged 65 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Vogt.
“We’re also already seeing the effect of having a large portion of our most vulnerable populations getting vaccinated: fewer cases overall, fewer hospitalizations and fewer cases in high-risk places like long-term care facilities,” Vogt said.
About 20% of Dane County’s total population has been vaccinated as of March 10, a number that is expected to increase as the Wisconsin state government will soon reveal plans to vaccinate approximately 2 million additional Wisconsin residents in the coming months — including many with underlying conditions.
UW-Madison has also experienced a sustained decline in COVID-19 cases among students and staff, according to data from March 9.
Although the new emergency order permits for larger gatherings, Vogt said residents should still be cautious, wear a mask, social distance and get a vaccine as soon as they are eligible to do so.
“While an individual may not be concerned about getting the virus, they could pass it on to someone who could get very sick, so that is why it is especially important for us all to look out for each other,” Vogt said.