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Dane County further loosens gathering and business restrictions

Beginning May 5, restaurants and bars can open to 75 percent of capacity

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With COVID-19 vaccine numbers rising and case counts dropping, Dane County has again loosened its restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Public Health Madison & Dane County last week issued Emergency Order #16, which further continues the phased reopening of the county. It was to go into effect on Wednesday, May 5 and be in effect until June 2.

“Because our COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the highest in the state and the number of cases we’ve seen each day have stabilized, we are increasing gathering and capacity limits for all businesses,” Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich said in a release.

However, “although more spaces are opening, people should still participate in activities based on their comfort with risks, because although we are making progress, we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Heinrich added.

A summary of what changes with Order #16:

  • Indoor gatherings with food and drink are limited to 350 people, with physical distancing required except when in transit. That’s up from 150 people in the current order.
  • Indoor gatherings without food and drink are limited to 500 people with physical distancing required except when in transit. That’s up from 350 people in the current order.
  • Outdoor gatherings must generally be limited to ensure people who don’t live together can maintain six feet physical distancing at all times, except when in transit.
  • Face coverings are not required when actively playing an instrument that has a bell cover, as long as people are six feet apart at all times.
  • Restaurants and taverns may open at 75% of their indoor dine-in capacity, with physical distancing. That’s up from 50% for restaurants and 25% for taverns in the current order.
  • Businesses must limit the number of individuals inside their establishment to 75% of capacity. That’s up from 50% in the current order.
  • If a gathering is taking place inside, the establishment must comply with both the gathering limits and the capacity limits and abide by the lower number.
  • Face coverings are still required in indoor public spaces.

“Increasing gathering and capacity limits, while still ensuring safety measures are in place for employees and customers, will set our local businesses up for success and allow customers to shop, dine, and enjoy their experience with more confidence,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

When Order #15 was enacted on April 7, the seven-day case average was 78 and the 7-day hospitalization average was 23. As of April 26, the seven-day case average was 64 and the 7-day hospitalization average is 32. Hospitalizations remain five-fold lower than the fall 2020 peak. On the day Order #15 was released, 39.2% of Dane County residents had at least one dose of vaccine. As of April 28, that number was 58.4%. Track the latest data via the weekly Data Snapshot and Data Notes blog post.


“Vaccination is our path out of this pandemic,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “People who are vaccinated are able to do things safely that unvaccinated people can’t, like hugging loved ones and gathering with friends without having to worry about masking or distance. Get vaccinated and get back to doing the things you love.”

Vaccine is readily available at the Alliant Energy Center community vaccination site. Appointments are recommended but not required. See our website for details.

“Continuing a measured re-opening approach is important since kids under the age of 16 aren’t able to be vaccinated yet. Keeping precautions in place continues to prioritize the health and safety of the community and will continue to be important until more people are able to be vaccinated,” said Jerry Halverson, MD, Chair of the Board of Health.

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