Less than two weeks before Christmas and with the number of new daily COVID-19 cases declining and local health providers getting the first shots of vaccine, the Madison and Dane County public health department issued a new order on Tuesday allowing indoor gatherings of up to 10 people.
The order took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and comes a day after Public Health Madison and Dane County advised that schools could begin safely bringing more students back for in-person classes.
“The number of people being diagnosed with COVID-19 in the recent weeks has fallen significantly, and for that we are thankful, but our burden of illness is still very high and hospitalizations are high,” Public Health director Janel Heinrich said in a statement. “We ask that everyone continue to limit gathering with others for the health and safety of the community.”
Indoor gatherings of unrelated people in homes or other private venues, which were previously banned, will be allowed with up to 10 people, as long as they wear masks and remain socially distanced, according to the new order. Outdoor gatherings, previously limited to 10 people, will be allowed with up to 25 people. The new order will be in effect for 28 days, or the length of two COVID-19 incubation periods.
The health department said it’s still safest to only gather with household members, but according to a Georgia Tech risk-assessment tool, the chances that at least one person in a gathering of 10 will be COVID-19 positive has dropped from 32% when the previous order was issued on Nov. 17 to 22% today. For groups of 15 and 25, the likelihoods are currently 30% and 46%, respectively.
Other current provisions as they relate to businesses are not being eased. Capacity for most businesses remains limited to 50% of approved capacity level. Restaurants still cannot go over 25% capacity and must have at least 6 feet of distance between tables. Parties still cannot consist of people from different households, but the size of a gathering at a table goes from a maximum of six people to 10. Bars are still prohibited from serving people inside.
When the previous order was issued, the seven-day average of new daily cases was 487, and 158 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the health department. Today the seven-day case average is 171 and there are 135 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Since Nov. 1, 54 Dane County residents have died from COVID-19.
The new order also loosens restrictions on some sports and physical activities, in line with the looser limits on gatherings.
Indoor competition with masks and social distancing will be allowed with up to 10 people and up to 25 outdoors for “low-risk” sports, or those in which there isn’t a lot of close contact.
Gyms, pools and courts will also be allowed to hold scheduled classes with up to 10 people.
The new order comes more than two weeks after Thanksgiving, which public health officials feared would lead to an increase in cases if people eschewed public health advice and gathered in large groups with extended family or others outside their household.
It doesn’t appear that happened, according to Public Health metrics, as the number of new cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 have continued to drop since mid-November, although the number of tests being administered is also down.
Hospitalization levels also peaked a week or so before Thanksgiving and have been dropping in recent days.
Chris Rickert's favorite stories of his least favorite year (2020)
From the pandemic to crimes real and not-so-real, there was no shortage of news in 2020 — most of it bad. Here's hoping for a 2021 that requires just a little bit less resilience.
Some charitable groups use third-party fundraisers that pocket the vast majority of the money they raise on behalf of the groups’ firefighter …
A lot of the people who had to keep working their "essential" jobs during the pandemic are pretty amazing.
People in Madison sometimes forget there are important cultural disputes happening in the suburbs.
It was reported as a horrific attack. It garnered national attention. Police couldn't find any evidence it occurred. The State Journal was amo…