Madison area students gather outside a popular campus bar. Gatherings at or near bars pose a great risk to all.Image By: Emily Buck
In response to a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases, Public Health Madison & Dane County released Emergency Order #10, completely prohibiting all indoor gatherings and limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people.
While tightened restrictions are undoubtedly necessary for public health and safety, this order wrongly places the brunt of the burden on individuals. After all, the order neglected to place further restrictions on county businesses, therefore allowing them to essentially carry on “business as usual” despite being known COVID-19 hotpots.
The previous order permitted ten people per indoor gathering and 25 per outdoor gathering, while also allowing businesses to operate at 50% approved capacity levels and restaurants to abide by a dine-in capacity of 25%. Under the new order, indoor gatherings including members who do not reside in the same household or living unit are completely prohibited. In contrast to this drastic restriction, no changes were made to the previous policies regulating businesses and restaurants.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin (TLW), a trade association that represents licensed beverage retailers, has long enjoyed privileges advancing their interests despite connections to major public health concerns. Most glaringly, their campaign contributions to Wisconsin lawmakers who make efforts to block legislation cracking down on drunk driving has resulted in inaction on the state’s pervasive drunk driving problem.
Now, in spite of the threat posed by COVID-19, TLW has pushed for loosened restrictions on bars and restaurants. The economic burden experienced by businesses during the pandemic is undeniable, but allowing them to continue operating under a 25% capacity level, a restriction that clearly failed in contributing to efforts of slowing the spread of the virus, is unjustifiable.
Every weekend, any passerby can observe without fail the lines of people that wrap around bars nearby the UW-Madison campus. Whether or not these establishments are actually following PHMDC orders, the lines alone serve as a major COVID-19 breeding ground. The Kollege Klub, to name just one example, had to close a second time in September after being linked to a string of coronavirus infections.
It’s frustrating that it must be repeated so many times, but the prioritization of business and money over the lives of our community requires its further emphasis: COVID-19 “can cause severe medical complications and lead to death in some people,” according to the Mayo Clinic. As of Nov. 19, it has already cost 69 lives in Dane County. Not to mention, the county is on course for growing case averages on top of its current peak of hospitalizations.
And while Order #10 fails to hold bars and restaurants adequately accountable, it holds Dane County citizens overly accountable. By placing harsher restrictions on the individual than on businesses, PHMDC wrongly suggests that individuals alone hold the most responsibility in fighting the virus while distracting from the great harm caused by gatherings occurring at a larger scale.
What is more risky, after all? A bar that brings together ten individuals with different exposures, or a gathering of ten people from the same social pod?
This is not to say that the precautions taken by individuals are not important, or that those who act recklessly do not cause great harm. Instead, it is to draw attention to the hypocrisy in the differing levels of restriction imposed by PHMDC — especially to those who live alone and to those who require assistance and care from others.
While it is not explicitly spelled out in Order #10, engaging in activities or performing “tasks essential to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members,” as stated in Order #2, is still permitted, even if it involves the gathering between individuals of different homes. However, the vast majority of reporting and the PHMDC release failed to acknowledge this important detail.
Additionally, the new order neglects to consider the potential harm to mental health that can be caused by such strict social isolation. For instance, isolation and loneliness are factors that have been found to worsen the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, resulting in families experiencing devastating loss much too soon.
The pandemic and social distancing efforts have contributed to increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well. Fear, anxiety and sadness are natural responses to loss and isolation, according to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Reichert. In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that elevated levels of adverse mental health conditions, substance use and suicidal ideation were reported by U.S. adults in June 2020.
The BMJ, a British medical research journal, also reported their concerns about suicide rates increasing amidst stay-at-home orders.
“Isolation, or limits in social contact, can have negative side effects that may impact mental health. As humans, we thrive on connection with others; we are social beings,” Reichert said to the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Loneliness is one of the biggest factors we are trying to combat right now. It can feel hopeless and can lead to increased feelings of isolation, which are risk factors for depression and anxiety.”
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are at a very concerning high in Dane County and changes must be made in order to ameliorate what has become an incredibly grave situation. PHMDC has done great work to promote public health, but the downfalls of Order #10 cannot be ignored. It is time our priorities lay completely within the lives — not dollars — of our community.
Haley is a senior studying Journalism and French. Do you think Order #10 lets off businesses too easy? Do you think it clamps down too hard on individuals? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org