Governor Tony Evers directed Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm on March 17 to issue an agency order prohibiting mass gatherings of 10 people or more statewide, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The measure came hours after Governor Evers declared a health emergency by Executive Order #72 to restrict groups of 50, which took effect on Tuesday, March 17 at 12:01 a.m. The new order superseded the original total of 50 with the reduced amount of 10. It will also remain in effect for the duration, and includes any gatherings at locations such as public or private schools, theaters, museums, stadiums, conference rooms, meeting halls, taverns, health and fitness centers, and places of worship.

Critical infrastructure and services such as grocery stores, food pantries, childcare centers, pharmacies, and hospitals are exempt from this order. Restaurants and bars are required to operate at less than 10 percent capacity or have fewer than 10 people, whichever is less.

“While it was a difficult decision knowing the impacts on communities, families, workers, and businesses across our state, I believe limiting gatherings to less than 10 people is another critical step we can take in slowing and reducing the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Evers. “Keeping folks safe and healthy has to be our top priority during this crisis.”

On March 12, the governor signed an executive order that directs DHS to take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent and respond to incidences of COVID-19. It allowed DHS to purchase, store, or distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance or other health coverage, as needed to respond to the emergency. It also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation and quarantine, as well as the use of the Wisconsin National Guard.

“Our top priority at this time is to keep Wisconsinites safe and healthy by reducing the spread of COVID-19, especially for those who are considered high-risk. With limited tests available nationwide and continued community spread, we have to take every precaution to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors,” added Governor Evers. “I know what this means for our small business owners and the struggles they and their workers will face in the coming weeks, but we are committed to working with our federal partners, state officials, and stakeholders to ensure we are doing everything we can to assist during these uncertain times.”

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Lee Matz