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MADISON — As the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and ventilator use continues to climb, state health officials want to limit public gatherings.

This story also appeared in Madison365

Today, Gov. Tony Evers directed the Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to issue an order limiting public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of a room or building’s total occupancy, according to a news release.

COVID-19 testing, Racine Festival Hall
Hundreds of Racine County residents showed up this week to get tested for COVID-19 at Racine Festival Hall.

This directive is effective at 8 a.m. on October 8, 2020, and will remain in effect until Nov. 6, 2020, and applies to any gatherings at locations that are open to the public such as stores, restaurants, and other businesses that allow public entry, as well as spaces with ticketed events.

“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” Evers said in a statement. “We are continuing to experience a surge in cases, and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus. Folks, we need your help, and we need all Wisconsinites to work together during this difficult time. The sooner we get control of this virus, the sooner our economy, communities, and state can bounce back.”

The order applies to indoor spaces that are open to the public, but not areas that aren’t open to the public, such as warehouses and factory floors. Schools, churches, government facilities, health care facilities, and private events are exempt.

Southeastern Wisconsin hospital admissions, ventilator use, and available bed county

Source: Wisconsin Hospital Association

Why are cases on the rise?

Health officials warned that a spike in cases would likely occur in the fall as students went back to school, and people spent more time indoors.

Michael O. Frank, Medical College of Wisconsin
Dr. Michael O. Frank

Dr. Michael O. Frank, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said during an exclusive interview that there had been several stories about college students for having parties where people have not been wearing masks. But the spike in cases doesn’t seem to be isolated to young adults, which leads him to believe that people are not complying with the mask ordinance.

“I’m not aware of any data on the compliance with the masks but there, obviously, is a huge level of noncompliance,” he said. “I think it’s beyond just college campuses; I think it’s true in bars and other public settings as well.”

The number of infections has continued to rise, but the death rate has not. Currently, about 1 percent of people infected with COVID-19 has died in Wisconsin. In Racine County, the death rate is about 1.94 percent. The Kenosha County death rate is about 1.8 percent.

This relatively low death rate could be attributed to a number of reasons, Frank said.

“We know that death rate always lags behind hospitalizations and hospitalizations always lags behind new infections, so there’s always a couple of weeks of delay because people have to get sick first before they go to the hospital, and then they don’t usually die until they’ve been in the hospital awhile so those things always lag and we can’t be sure that that just won’t go up with time,” he said.

But the death rate may not be increasing because most of the new cases with the last month have occurred in people between 18- and 24-years-old, and 25- and 34-years-old. Those two age groups have a significantly lower death rate.

The third reason for the lower death rate is that health professionals are better at treating the virus.

“So, once you end up in the hospital your chance of dying is significantly lower now than it was in the spring of two,” he said.

Governor announces $100 million for small businesses

Earlier today, the governor also announced an additional $100 million in support for Wisconsin’s small businesses, including lodging, event venues, and others in the tourism industry, who are struggling in the wake of the pandemic without additional federal supports.

“The unfortunate reality is this: the disease activity level of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is so high that going to a gathering puts you at very high risk of exposure,” Palm said in a statement. “We know gatherings are a key way this virus spreads, so we must act to limit indoor gatherings to stop the spread, reduce illness, and save lives.”

Today, DHS reported an increase of 2,020 confirmed cases of COVID-19; 18 new deaths, and the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 2,346, up from 836 one month ago. According to DHS’ Disease Activity dashboard and as of Sept. 30, 2020, 45 of Wisconsin counties meet the threshold of a very high disease activity level, which means that there are more than 350 cases per 100,000 people in that county. All other counties reported high case activity levels.

“Wisconsinites should assume they will likely be exposed to the virus if they leave home and should practice all safety precautions,” the governor’s office press release said.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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