Jeramey Jannene

Evers Restricts Bar, Restaurant Capacity

All public, indoor facilities cannot exceed 25% of capacity. Order runs through November 6th.

By - Oct 6th, 2020 02:12 pm
Gov. Tony Evers addresses the public during a Department of Health Services media briefing on Aug. 13, 2020. Department of Health Services via YouTube

Gov. Tony Evers addresses the public during a Department of Health Services media briefing on Aug. 13, 2020. Department of Health Services via YouTube

Governor Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm are getting more aggressive in their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

A new order will limit indoor capacity at bars and restaurants to 25 percent from Thursday, October 8th through November 6th. The order also applies to stores and any other gathering open to the public. It does not apply to private wedding ceremonies or funerals.

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” said Evers in a press release. “We are continuing to experience a surge in cases and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus.”

“We know gatherings are a key way this virus spreads,” said Palm in a press briefing. “This is a critical moment in the pandemic for us and we each must do our part to stop the spread.”

Following a May Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, Palm’s authority to issue health orders was severely curtailed. Evers used his authority, untouched by the Supreme Court ruling, to issue a mask mandate via a new 60-day emergency and then extended it with another order, but his authority is now being challenged in court.

“I have no doubt we will probably see litigation on this order as well,” said Ryan Nilsestuen, the governor’s top attorney.

The attorney said the order relied on a part of DHS authority that was untouched by the May supreme court ruling.

“Density of people in an indoor space, particularly an indoor space that may not have great ventilation, is going to be the environment that transmission occurs most easily,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, on the scientific basis for the order. “I think it’s a key to limiting the spread is to limit the density or number of people in an enclosed space.”

“The unfortunate reality is this: the disease activity level of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is so high that going to a gathering puts you at very high risk of exposure,” said Palm. “We know gatherings are a key way this virus spreads, so we must act to limit indoor gatherings to stop the spread, reduce illness, and save lives.”

Specific exemptions to the order are granted to child care settings, schools, colleges, health care providers, public infrastructure and transportation systems, government facilities and religious, political and other events protected by the First Amendment.

Enforcement is left to local law enforcement officials. The order supersedes Milwaukee’s restrictions that remove capacity restrictions for businesses with an approved health plan. (UPDATE: Milwaukee would later determine businesses with an approved health plan should follow their plan).

Prior to issuing the order, Evers also announced $100 million in grants available to small businesses. The funds come from the state’s federal CARES Act allocation.

Over $50 million would be allocated to a second round of small business grants. Up to $5,000 per business would be awarded, following $65 million already awarded. The grants are targeted at restaurants, bars, hair and nail salons, barbershops and other small service providers. An application is available on the Department of Revenue website.

Other allocations include $20 million for the lodging industry, $15 million for live music and performance venues, $10 million for privately-owned movie theaters, $10 million for non-profit cultural venues and $4 million in additional funding for destination marketing organizations and tourism drivers.

A full copy of the order and a list of exemptions can be found on Urban Milwaukee.

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