In an effort to dampen Wisconsin’s blazing coronavirus outbreak, Governor Tony Evers’ administration has issued a new order limiting the size of public indoor gatherings.
“Today I’ve directed Secretary-designee Palm to issue a limit on public gatherings in Wisconsin,” Evers said during a Tuesday media briefing. “With exceptions such as schools, child care centers and health care and long term care facilities to name a few, indoor public gatherings are limited to no more than 25 percent of total occupancy limits for the room or the building.”
This new order is effective at 8 a.m. Thursday (October 8) and will remain in effect until November 6. It applies to any gatherings at locations open to the public such as stores, restaurants, and other businesses, as well as spaces with ticketed events.
“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. That is why, at the direction of the governor, I signed an order to limit indoor public gatherings,” DHS Secretary designee Andrea Palm said. “Spread of this disease is currently intense, and it is community wide. We absolutely see transmission among indoor gatherings.”
Wisconsin’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, explained the scientific basis for limiting indoor public gatherings.
“The strongest scientific justification is the observation that the virus travels between people in close proximity. It follows from that the density of people in an indoor space, particularly an indoor space that may not have great ventilation is going to be the environment in which transmission occurs most easily,” he said.
Ryan Nilsestuen, Chief Legal Counsel for Evers, believes the latest public health order limiting the size of indoor public gatherings will withstand a legal challenge.
“It’s using DHS authority that the (state) Supreme Court did not touch in the ‘Safer at Home’ decision. In fact they exempted the one part of the Safer at Home order that was not overruled by the Supreme Court relied on the exact same provision. It allows DHS to limit and regulate public gatherings in schools, churches and other places, and that’s exactly what this order does.”
The new action by the Evers’ administration comes as Wisconsin reported more than 850 coronavirus hospitalizations for the first time on Tuesday. The Department of Health Services also reported 18 additional deaths to bring the statewide death toll to 1,399 and the seven-day average of deaths to just over 14 – the highest ever.
There was limited immediate reaction from Republican lawmakers. but state Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) released the following statement:
“The Supreme Court is clear and has already ruled that the Governor is supposed to be working with the Legislature on any decisions affecting the state going forward relating to the pandemic. Governor Evers is not supposed to act unilaterally, yet here he is again.”
Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) also issued a statement, which read in part:
“There are three people responsible for the constitutional crisis that now grips state government, they are Governor Tony Evers, DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Evers and Palm are now openly abusing the rule of law for politically motivated purposes relating to the November election. Assembly Speaker Vos continues to enable the illegal conduct of this administration by blocking the Legislature from meeting to put an end to the improper emergency declaration and emergency orders issued under it.”
Nass again called on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to immediately call the Legislature back into session to pass a joint resolution ending Evers’ emergency declaration, which Nass said is illegal and unnecessary.