Tennis courts in Dane County are now open, and restaurants, bowling alleys and many other gathering places appear soon to follow – with limitations.

The county’s phased reopening of county businesses and services affected by the COVID-19 pandemic began Tuesday, May 19, with an order from Public Health Madison-Dane County allowing preparations for the first phase. The blueprint the county introduced Monday, May 18, called “Forward Dane” describes several metrics health officials intend to use to judge when and how to phase certain activities back in and an overview of three separate phases, with the final one holding at gatherings of no more than 250 people until a vaccine or similar safety measures are developed.

Phase 1, which will be assessed no earlier than May 26, would allow restaurants, churches and many other public gathering places to open at 25% of occupancy limits.

The first step is a Safe Reopen or “prepare” order, which was made May 18 and effective the next day, followed by three additional phases, each with gradually less restrictive criteria.

Public Health estimates spending at least two weeks – one COVID-19 incubation period – in phases 1-3 to assess the data and ensure the changes did not cause an unmanageable increase in cases. The metrics and criteria identified in Forward Dane will guide any decision-making to move between phases, the release said.

Forward Dane defines data metrics in three basic categories: the ability of healthcare systems to handle growth in positive tests, the healthcare systems’ capacity to conduct tests and treat patients, and public health’s ability to contain infections, including contact tracing.

“Metrics help us understand the growth in cases, the healthcare system’s current capacity, and public health’s ability to contain the spread of the virus,” wrote Janel Heinrich, Public Health Madison-Dane County director. “We need some time to assess the impact of widespread testing before we make any drastic changes; however, today we are comfortable moving to the phase that allows businesses to prepare to reopen safely.”

According to the plan, Phase 1, would allow: restaurants to operate at 25% capacity with social distancing protocols and no self-service; offices at 25%, retail and indoor shopping malls at 25% and no samples; gyms at 25%, with contact sports areas and saunas closed; salons by appointment only, with no waiting area; residential cleaning services; interior home work; swimming pools and amusement places such as bowling alleys, zoos and mini golf at 25%; and indoor mass gatherings 10 people, outdoor 25.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi touted the plan as a “blueprint for a safe and gradual reopening of Dane County.”

“We, like many in our county, are eager for economic stability in our community,” he said in the news release. “We also know that slowing the spread of COVID-19 is critical in order to keep people safe and protect our hospital systems.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at