The party’s over, Dane County.

With COVID-19 cases again on the rise — and young people gathering at bars identified as a main cause — new county orders starting Thursday will limit bars and restaurants to indoor capacity levels not seen since mid-May.

Barely two weeks after moving from Phase 1 to 2 in its Forward Dane reopening plan, Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) announced new restrictions in a news release Wednesday, July 1, to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Outdoor gatherings are once again limited to 25 (not including employees), which is down from 100, with indoor gatherings limited to 10, down from 50. Restaurants will return to a 25% indoor seating capacity, down from 50%. And while socially distanced outdoor seating is allowed at bars, they are only allowed to offer carryout services.

The new orders will go into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday, July 2, and be in place until further notice, according to the news release. Other businesses and public facilities will remain in Phase 2 protocols.

PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said the department is “using data and science to determine what actions are necessary across Dane County to slow the spread of the disease.”

“This is a critical time for Dane County to minimize the spread of COVID-19, keep people healthy, and maintain a level of transmission that is manageable by healthcare and public health systems,” she said the release.

The county had moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the Forward Dane plan on June 15, but PHMDC officials said rising positive tests for COVID-19 and discovered concentrations of trouble spots made the changes necessary to protect public health.

According to PHMDC, from June 20-26, there were 482 positive tests for COVID-19 — the highest of any seven-day period — with nearly half reporting attending a recent gathering, party or meeting with people outside their household. Nearly two thirds involved people in their 20s, and more than a third reported visiting a bar, representing the largest time and location-bound clusters of the epidemic so far, according to the news release.

“Bars and mass gatherings create particularly challenging environments for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Heinrich said. “Physical movement within the establishment, duration of time spent in the establishment, and the degree of social mixing within individuals and groups are all greater in bars than in other businesses.”

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