Bartender James Martine talks with longtime patrons Mamie and Steve Detert of Waterloo at  Pedro's Mexican Restaurant in Madison at the end of September. Dane County announced Tuesday it is restricting all indoor gatherings. This new ordinance will not apply to restaurants, which will still be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Bartender James Martine talks with longtime patrons Mamie and Steve Detert of Waterloo at Pedro's Mexican Restaurant in Madison at the end of September. Dane County announced Tuesday it is restricting all indoor gatherings. This new ordinance will not apply to restaurants, which will still be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Order comes as virus cases surge, deaths and hospitalizations climb.

Beginning Wednesday, Dane County residents will be prohibited from gathering indoors, the most recent effort by public health officials to slow the fast-rising spread of the coronavirus.

The order comes as Wisconsin reports a one-day record 92 deaths and 7,090 new positive cases of the virus, the third-highest daily total reported. Total cases reported in the state number 323,848.  

Public Health Madison & Dane County officials issued the order on Tuesday, saying such action is necessary as coronavirus cases continue to surge across Wisconsin. The order also limits outdoor gatherings to 10 or fewer people who do not live together and requires they be physically distanced from each other. 

The order is in effect until Dec. 16. 

“This virus does not spread on its own. We spread it. Every gathering – no matter the size – is an opportunity for disease spread and prolongs the pandemic,” Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a news release explaining the order. “We are hopeful that with the community’s cooperation, we can bring our numbers down and avoid more hospitalizations and deaths,” added Heinrich.

Among activities not allowed under the order are athletic events, exercise classes, meetings, movies at theaters, and other events at which people gather, county public health officials said. They are recommending against gathering for Thanksgiving. 

Previous Dane County limits on gatherings were set at a maximum of 10 people indoors and up to 25 outdoors, with social distancing requirements.

Requirements for face masks and 50% capacity limits for most businesses, along with other regulations intended to curb the spread of the contagious virus, remain in effect.The county, and the city of Madison, may issue a fine of up to $1,000 for each violation of the health order, plus court costs.

Dane County and the rest of Wisconsin is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. The state is among the hotspots of the virus in the U.S. currently, and total cases in Dane County total 23,546. The county’s average number of positive cases reported during the past seven days is 433, more than double one month ago. On Tuesday alone there were 707 new cases reported in the county. 

The fast-growing number of cases is causing a concurrent spike in deaths and hospitalizations. On Tuesday, 174 people in the county were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 48 requiring intensive care. Many hospitals in the region report being at or near capacity, and statewide, a record 2,274 patients are hospitalized statewide. Of those, 456 are in intensive care beds, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association figures.    

“Our hospitals are overflowing, our doctors and nurses are running ragged, and everywhere we turn, there is sickness, creating a challenge like none other we have ever seen,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “These new orders, like their predecessors, are designed to call attention to where we are seeing the greatest amount of disease spread and interrupt the virus’ quick movement through our community.”

Despite those figures, the order in Dane County is an anomaly, as in most of Wisconsin the only public health order in effect is Gov. Tony Evers’ order to wear face masks in public places. That order is scheduled to expire Saturday and faces a legal challenge by Republicans.  

The Dane County order comes after data shows close contact among people gathering is driving the COVID-19 surge. Many who have tested positive recently said they had attended gatherings or parties with people outside of their households, officials said. 

In addition, the release states, national data shows indoor gatherings, especially those in spaces with poor ventilation, pose a significant risk to contracting the virus. As more people spend time indoors with the onset of cold weather, such gatherings are occurring much more frequently, officials said. 

Not getting together with extended family for Thanksgiving will be difficult, Madison resident Rose Bejin said. But she said she understands the necessity of the order as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket. 

“The holidays will be hard this year,” Bejin said. “But we have to do what we need to so loved ones can stay healthy.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she understands the desire to hold holiday get-togethers. But doing so with the virus so rampant could be deadly, she said. 

“We want our loved ones to be around not just for this one holiday, but for all the holidays and special occasions of our lives—the high school graduations, the weddings, and the reunions of the next 25 years, not just the next 25 days,” Rhodes-Conway said in the release