In response to what it called “a substantial, sustained growth,” in local Covid-19 cases, Public Health Madison & Dane County is banning all indoor public gatherings and limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people.

The new public health order goes into effect at 12:01 Wednesday, Nov. 18.

“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,” Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich said in a release. “We are hopeful that with the community’s cooperation, we can bring our numbers down and avoid more hospitalizations and deaths.”

In-person games, sports, competitions, group exercise classes, meetings, trainings, movies, events, and conferences are all considered mass gatherings, the release said. Dane County’s previous limit for gatherings was 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with physical distancing.

The order is in effect until Dec. 16 at 12:01am and continues to require face coverings and limit the capacity for most businesses to 50 percent, along with many other provisions.

“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 in the release. “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.”

This new order is based on data collected from contact tracing interviews and compliance checks, officials said. People having close contact with others is driving the spread of Covid-19, they said. From Oct. 27 through Nov. 9, 31 percent of local people with Covid-19 reported non-household close contact with another case. Nearly a quarter of people who tested positive attended a gathering or party in the past two weeks.

National data also continue to indicate gatherings, particularly in crowded indoor environments with poor ventilation, remain a significant risk, the county release said. As gatherings increasingly move inside due to cold weather, it is another way risk continues to be magnified.

“We cannot pretend that this is going to be a normal Thanksgiving. We know that many of the people we want to spend time with are very vulnerable to the virus,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. “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.”

Dane County is currently averaging 433 cases per day over a 7-day period, which is more than double the number of cases from a month ago.

As of Nov. 17, 174 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Dane County, including 48 in intensive care. Hospitals in the southern region are strained, with many at or near capacity. From Oct. 27 through Nov. 9, nine hospitals in the region reported at least one day of critical staffing shortage. One of these hospitals was within Dane County.

“We ask that everyone exercise good judgement and follow the orders. The intention of the order is not to penalize businesses or individuals, but to keep everyone safe during this pandemic,” said Heinrich.

Dane County and City of Madison may issue a fine of up to $1,000 for every violation of the health order, plus court costs, the release said. As a result, anyone hosting a gathering could see significant penalties.

To protect everyone, in addition to not gathering, Public Health asks people to use virtual options, including working from home if able, wearing a mask, avoiding close contact with others, and staying home if sick.

More information is at publichealthmdc.com/coronavirus.

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