Months after Dane County opened up to allow more indoor and outdoor gatherings, it is back to prohibiting or severely restricting them until Dec. 16.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, in response to a “substantial, sustained growth in new COVID-19 infections,” Public Health Madison and Dane County issued Emergency Order #10, which prohibits indoor gatherings of any size. Outdoor gatherings are permitted with 10 people or less, with physical distancing. The order went into effect Wednesday, Nov. 18, said PHMDC director Janel Heinrich in a county news release, and continues to require face coverings and limits the capacity for most businesses to 50%.

“This virus does not spread on its own. We spread it,” she said in the release. “Every gathering -- no matter the size -- is an opportunity for disease spread and prolongs the pandemic. 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, according to the news release. Indoor mass gatherings of any people who do not live together are prohibited.

Outdoor mass gatherings are limited to 10 people who do not live together, with physical distancing. The previous limit for gatherings was 10 indoors and 25 outdoors, with physical distancing. PHMDC is also asking people to use virtual options, work from home if able, wear a mask, avoid close contact with others, and stay home if they feel sick.

The new order has some teeth, too, as the county can issue a fine of up to $1,000 for every violation of the health order, plus court costs.

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

Dane County is now averaging 433 cases per day over a 7-day period, more than double the number of cases from a month ago. As of Nov. 17, 174 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 48 in the ICU.

According to the news release, nine hospitals in the region reported at least one day of critical staffing shortage, including one in Dane County.

"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," said county executive Joe Parisi in the news 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."

According to the news release, the order is informed by data collected from contact tracing interviews and compliance checks that showed people having close contact with others is driving the spread of COVID-19.

Between Oct. 27 and Nov. 9, nearly one-third of people with COVID-19 reported non-household close contact with another case. And nearly a quarter of those who tested positive attended a gathering or party in the past two weeks.

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