More than two months after the state’s Safer at Home order closed many businesses throughout Dane County, the reopening process has begun.

Based on the results of recent COVID-19 testing and data, county officials ordered the start of Phase 1 of their “Forward Dane” reopening plan, effective 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 26. That was the date set earlier in the week by Public Health Madison and Dane County officials based on improvements in COVID-19 statistics, according to a Friday, May 22 county news release.

Phase 1, which requires physical distancing, includes reopening businesses — like restaurants, gyms and retail establishments — to 25% capacity with certain requirements, indoor gatherings of 10 people or fewer and outdoor gatherings of 50 or fewer. Park courts and fields are open with physical distancing, though select businesses and activities with high risk for disease transmission are still closed.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said county officials have worked hard to listen to business owners and support their reopening in a way that also supports the public health..

“I’m confident that Dane County’s data-driven response to this pandemic is the right approach for us to take,” he said in the news release.

County officials have specific criteria which must be met to move forward in the four-phase plan.

Starting May 26, the county will remain in Phase 1 for a minimum of 14 days, equal to one incubation period for COVID-19. If testing levels are met, Public Health will issue a Phase 2 order which will essentially increase establishments to 50 percent capacity, and allow larger numbers of people to gather. If criteria are not met, they will be reassessed at regular intervals.

PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said health officials are receiving hundreds of test results each day and have analyzed additional data from the community testing site at the Alliant Energy Center. She said the order does not compel businesses to open, and any businesses not ready on May 26 should wait until they are.

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