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Dane Co. to introduce new re-opening plan today

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 10:51 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With Dane County’s current COVID-19 emergency order set to expire next week, local health officials have introduced a new order, further easing restrictions on individuals and businesses in the county.

“We set out at the start of this pandemic with clear goals – trying to minimize illness and death in our community and reduce the toll this pandemic took on families and health care workers that we saw in too many places across this country,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “These new orders reflect the hope we should all feel as more people get vaccinated and we move closer with each passing day to the final chapters of this pandemic.”

Foremost among the changes in Emergency Order #14 is increasing the gathering limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings. A gathering with food or drinks is limited to 150 people, while a gathering without food or drinks is limited to 350 people. An outdoor gathering is limited to 500 people, regardless of a food or drink option.

The department also upped restaurant capacity to 50%, while taverns must limit indoor dine-in capacity to 25% of approved seating capacity.

In both indoor and outdoor gatherings, health officials require that people continue to keep 6 feet of social distancing. Individuals must wear face masks at any indoor gathering, but masks are only required at outdoor gatherings if the occupancy exceeds 50 people.

Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich explained that 18.5% of Dane Co. residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which shows the progress that Dane Co. has made.

“But even at our current rate of vaccination, we are already seeing significant and hopeful progress toward our end goal,” Heinrich said during a news conference.

In its statement, Public Health Madison & Dane Co. detailed and highlighted the major changes from the previous order to the new one.

  • A Gathering inside where food or drink is offered or provided is limited to 150 individuals. A Gathering inside where food or drink is not offered or provided is limited to 350 individuals. Individuals must maintain six feet physical distancing and face coverings are required.
  • A Gathering outside is limited to 500 individuals. Individuals must maintain six feet physical distancing. Face coverings required at gatherings of more than 50 individuals.
  • The school protective measure policy requirements were updated and includes items about employee face coverings and distancing, distancing for students, and student groupings.
  • Restaurants may open up to 50% their capacity.
  • Taverns must limit indoor dine-in capacity to 25% of approved seating capacity levels. Space tables and chairs to ensure at least six (6) feet physical distancing between customers who are not members of the same household or living unit.

Parisi cited the Light the Nights event from Monday night during the Tuesday news conference, noting today’s emergency order can look toward the future.

“Last night, we came together as a community to acknowledge the hardships and sacrifices we all have endured as individuals and as a community over the past year. Today we can look toward the future, with cautious optimism and hope as we further the process of incrementally and carefully reopening our economy and our community. "

Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway backed the new order, but said residents still need to be vigilant when it comes to protecting themselves against COVID-19.

“Public health orders are designed to work on a population level to protect vulnerable people, preserve hospital capacity, suppress illness, and prevent deaths,” the mayor said. “As an individual or a family, you may need to make stricter choices based on your comfort with risks.”

The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, March 10 and will remain in effect for 28 days.

The following provisions are unchanged between the previous order and the latest order:

  • Face coverings are required in enclosed buildings, while driving with people who are not part of your household, and outdoors at a restaurant or tavern. The types of face coverings allowed was updated to reflect new CDC recommendations.
  • Businesses continue to be limited to 50% of approved building capacity and must have written cleaning and hygiene policies in place.
  • Provisions for continuing education and higher education institutions, industry-specific requirements, health care, public health, human service, infrastructure, manufacturing, government, and religious entities and groups remain unchanged.

February’s Order

The previous order had upped the number of people who were allowed to gather at local businesses, with caps ranging from 25-100 depending on if the business served food or not and if the gathering is held indoors or outdoors.

It also opened the door to games and competitions for games and competitions and pulled the limit on childcare and kindergarten groups. The Feb. 8 order, which went into effect two days later, was set to expire on March 10, barring a superseding order.

At the time, Heinrich said she “is hopeful” that her agency will be able to continue to do so in the coming few months.

New Cases Plummeting

When order was issued, more than one hundred new COVID-19 cases on average were being reported each day. Since then, the seven-day rolling average has been nearly cut in half from 111.3 per day to 56.70 cases per day, according to PHMDC’s latest figures.

At its peak in November, Dane Co. was averaging nearly 500 cases per day.

Coinciding with the new restrictions, Dane Co. officials have also rolled out a new Forward Dane plan that outlines how the county plans to reopen.

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