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Dane County limits private gatherings, bans standing service at bars, restaurants in amended order

Dane County limits private gatherings, bans standing service at bars, restaurants in amended order

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Patrons have drinks and cigars on the patio of Maduro in downtown Madison, on May 27. Tables have been spaced six feet apart to allow for social distancing.

Dane County health officials are further limiting private gatherings and adding new stipulations for bars and restaurants in light of a steep spike in COVID-19 cases driven by young adults

The move, which went into effect Thursday at 10 p.m., came after a five-day period in which the county racked up 279 positive cases of the disease, leading officials to call for renewed efforts to combat the virus. 

The amended order to Phase 2 of the local Forward Dane order, which has been in place since June 15, caps private gatherings at 10 people and requires patrons to be seated during their visits to bars and restaurants (thus banning standing service), with individuals only being seated with members of their own household. 

The amendment still allows bars and restaurants to operate at 50% of capacity, and everything else in the original order remains unchanged. 

Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich said the tweaks "target the issues we are hearing about in contact tracing interviews."

"We make this change after carefully studying our steep case trajectory and learning more about the circumstances surrounding each case from our contact tracers,” she said. 

PHMDC reported Thursday that half of 279 cases in the past five days were people between 20 and 29 years old, and the county is investigating several cases associated with businesses near campus, including, a spokeswoman said, campus-area bars and restaurants identified as not following health orders.

Steep spike in county COVID-19 cases driven by young adults

Ongoing protests demanding changes in policing practices and procedures in Madison have also drawn hundreds of young people to the streets following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody last month. 

But according to PHMDC data, few who tested positive for COVID-19 from June 1 through June 24 said they'd participated in a demonstration.

Of the 622 people who were positive for the virus in Dane County over that period, at least 12 specifically said they'd participated in a protest when asked whether they attended "a gathering, party, or meeting with people from outside your household" in the 14 days before symptoms began.

In all, 288 said no while 213 answered in the affirmative, a dozen of whom said they'd attended a protest. Another six answered "unknown," while 115 left a blank answer for the question, according to a PHMDC spokeswoman, "which means it could still be under investigation or the question wasn't asked." 

While young people tend to have less severe symptoms, they can be a catalyst for spreading the virus.  

Health officials said they've been considering criteria that would return the county back to an earlier phase, but Heinrich said given health officials' understanding of the surge, the latest order is able to take a "targeted approach" rather than stepping back to Phase 1 or before. 

“In contact tracing interviews, gatherings among family and friends and socializing at bars have been identified often," she noted. "We know they are a major driver of this surge in cases."

Statewide there appears to be a spike as well, with 464 cases reported Thursday and 432 confirmed cases reported on Wednesday, while there were only 263 reported on Tuesday. That’s the highest number since June 4, when 492 were reported. Total deaths in the state numbered 766 as of Thursday.

Also as of Thursday, the county has seen 1,350 confirmed cases and 32 deaths.

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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