Public health officials overseeing the state’s largest college town issued an order shutting down indoor service in bars in Dane County ahead of the Fourth of July weekend after a surge of new cases of the coronavirus.
The new restrictions backtrack on plans to gradually reopen businesses in the area amid the pandemic and could trigger a legal challenge from bar owners.
At risk is UW-Madison’s plan to welcome students back to campus this fall.
Jeff Pothof, UW Health chief quality and safety officer, said if local health officials don’t try to stop the spread of the virus in Dane County, in-person instruction could be called off.
“If we’re unable to get on top of this current spike and it continues to accelerate, we may be in a position where it won’t make sense to be holding in-person classes,” he said. “It becomes a risk that most of us shouldn’t be taking with our child care.”
The new order closes indoor service in bars beginning today and limits the number of people who may eat inside restaurants to 25% capacity. Under the order, bars may keep their patios open if they have them.
“For the past week, Dane County has seen a sustained, high number of cases. After consultation with our contact tracing team, gatherings and visits to bars and restaurants continue to be implicated in interviews with cases,” Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a statement.
“We are acting now to immediately curb this increase in cases and protect the health and safety of our community.”
Public health officials said since June 13, 614 people tested positive for coronavirus and half of them were between the ages of 18 and 29.
Multiple cases of the virus have been linked to businesses near the UW-Madison campus, local health officials said Thursday.
Jessie Steckling, a junior at UW-Madison, said some of her friends are frequenting bars near campus and that “there’s essentially no social distancing and that people walk around and mingle almost as normal.”
Steckling said she’s very worried about the current spike in cases and relieved by Wednesday’s order. Two of her grandparents live in the area and go to grocery stores on a regular basis.
“People have somehow not realized that this is a very real problem, and I think it’s easy to block out if you only socialize with other young people,” she said.
But Scott Stenger, lobbyist for the Tavern League of Wisconsin, said public health officials are unfairly punishing bar owners and not taking into account the responsibility recent protests over police brutality might have in the surge.
“To make out bars to be a scapegoat of an increase when you’ve had historic protests for three weeks straight—it seems a bit irresponsible to not factor that in,” Stenger said.
Heinrich said Wednesday only 12 people who tested positive reported having an association with a protest.
It’s unclear whether contact tracers ask people who test positive whether they have attended a protest specifically.
Stenger said Monday bar owners might consider filing a lawsuit over the new shutdown but made the comments before outdoor seating was known to be allowed.
He said the Tavern League is open to any suggestions on how to keep businesses alive, including focusing on outdoor seating.
“We lobbied to focus more on outdoor seating early on and we were not successful in that. But let’s focus outside,” Stenger said. “That apparently is a better environment for costumers and employees to be in.”
Dane County’s new limits on its bars comes the same day as Milwaukee increased capacity in theirs.
Bars were shuttered by Gov. Tony Evers in March as the virus began to spread in Wisconsin. They were able to reopen after a May Supreme Court ruling tossed out much of the governor’s orders.
But Dane County kept in place a local order to keep bars closed and just recently allowed the establishments to reopen at a reduced capacity. Stenger said bar owners and their employees can’t continue without business.
“We just can’t survive any longer,” he said.
Public health officials say bars are particularly problematic during the pandemic because patrons don’t know with whom they are gathering closely.
“Groups of people mix, bars are often loud spaces that require loud talking to communicate (which can spread infectious droplets farther),” the officials said in a news release. “Alcohol impairs the judgment of patrons, and people often are not able to identify or provide contact information for the people they were in close contact with.”
The first case of the virus in Wisconsin was found in Madison in February, but the spread of the virus was controlled better in Dane County than all other counties with large populations.
Dane County was also the last county to begin to reopen its businesses after closures in March.
Wisconsin has seen 29,199 reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 786 deaths as of Wednesday, according to state health officials. The state had 6,110 active cases as of Monday, with 835 in Dane County. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Madison Alderman Mike Verveer, who represents the downtown area, said he supports the order despite it likely harming businesses in his district.
He hasn’t received any complaints from establishments—yet. He said he expects some to be disappointed because they don’t have the option for outdoor service and will be shuttered.
But he has heard from patrons who are worried about the campus area.
“I think we need to follow the science,” Verveer said. “To state the obvious, the order would not have been issued but for the fact that we’ve seen clusters of positive cases in Dane County taverns.”
Verveer helped launch the city’s “streatery” program, where public and private property outside restaurants can be converted into dining space.
Put forward at the end of May through a mayoral emergency order, the program allows restaurants to expand outdoor dining onto the public sidewalks, on-street parking areas or in privately owned parking lots.
Verveer said it has been a lifeline to a lot of businesses that would otherwise be shuttered. And it could expand to bars, too.
The most densely populated student housing has seen the “highest among the very highest of cases” in last several days, according to Verveer.
Both the city and UW-Madison have similar orders in place to ensure people are distancing properly, which will be especially important come late August when the university’s 30,000 students return to campus.
“We have been and will be working to ensure people are abiding by the campus order when they are on campus property,” Marc Lovicott of UW-Madison’s Police Department said. “We have and will issue citations for blatant and/or multiple violations.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joel J. Ollerich
Darold M. Pettit
William S. Tavarres
The only thing 84-year-old Katie Harrington hasn’t done since having an aortic valve replacement is mow her lawn with the push mower.
Katie and her husband, Paul Harrington, typically fight over who gets to use the push mower, she said. Neither of them enjoy sitting still.
Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, the couple would have been gearing up for a hiking trip across Montana less than a month after Katie’s surgery.
Katie was one of the first three patients to have a transcatheter aortic valve replacement at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.
The hospital hosted its first round of the surgeries, including Katie’s, on June 3, said John Snider, cardiac surgeon.
The procedure allows people in need of aortic valve replacement to avoid open heart surgery and be in and out of the hospital within 24 hours, Snider said.
Here’s how it works.
The medical team inserts a catheter through the leg or chest and guides a new valve to the heart with help from a stent.
Once the stent reaches the aortic valve, the stent is inflated, crushing the old valve and leaving behind the new valve made of cow heart tissue, Snider said.
Snider and Gene Gulliver, interventional cardiologist, have been working for about three years to offer the minimally invasive surgery in Janesville, they said.
It became a reality after Mercyhealth opened its new hybrid operating suite early this year, Snider said.
The hybrid suite allows for a catheter lab and operating room in the same space.
If there is a complication with the valve replacement during surgery, doctors could pivot to open heart surgery right away, Snider said.
Some patients might still benefit from open heart surgery, Snider said.
For example, open heart surgery allows doctors to replace the valve with a mechanical valve, which is expected to last longer than a valve made from cow tissue, making it ideal for younger patients, Snider said.
But for older patients, the transcatheter procedure is beneficial because it allows for quick recovery, Gulliver said.
Aortic valve stenosis is often caused by old age or genetics, Gulliver said.
The aging baby boomer population has caused a greater demand for aortic valve replacements, Snider said.
Katie said many of her friends were “flabbergasted” to hear she needed heart surgery because of her active life.
Katie makes it a goal to walk a reasonable distance every day.
“I try not to sulk because then I get used to it,” Katie said.
Katie spent less than 24 hours in the hospital after her surgery, she said. The biggest surprise to her was how fast it went.
Hospital staff and doctors put her at ease about the procedure, and she had no reservations about being one of the first Janesville patients, she said.
At 84 years old, Katie still cross country skis, goes snowshoeing, rides her bike, mows her lawn and tends to her garden.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has tried to reach out to as many of her friends as possible so nobody feels lonely, she said.
A friend who was in the hospital recently told Katie that Katie inspired her.
The notion even weeks later caused Katie to crack a smile.
The agriculture community is rallying to help kids who won’t be able to show and sell their animals in a summer without the Rock County 4-H Fair.
The fair was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the meat animal sale for swine, sheep and steers will happen online thanks to Rock County Agriculture Youth Supporters and Badger State Auction.
Some kids already have sold their animals and arranged for butchering, so the virtual event will be only to raise money for youth exhibitors. No meat will be sold.
“The sale is not to purchase the animal but to donate to the kids’ future education funds or to reinvest in animals for next year,” said Leanne Hoffman with Rock County Agriculture Youth Supporters.
Kids who wish to participate can sign up at gazettextra .com/sale. Registration has been extended through 6 p.m. Monday.
Organizers are asking for one submission per child, not per animal, and hoping 150 to 200 youth participate.
Invitations were sent to 400 area buyers who typically frequent the sale, including longtime supporters such as Seneca Foods, Jake’s Electric, E&D Waterworks and Woodman’s Food Market.
Buyers can view auction items starting Wednesday, July 15, and bidding will be open from 8 a.m. Monday, July 27, through noon Friday, July 31.
In a normal year, about 500 animals are sold at the meat animal sale, Hoffman said. When COVID-19 hit, many farm families debated whether to take on the risk of raising animals.
After it was announced the fair was canceled, many youth rushed to get slaughter times booked. Some youth had trouble finding slots and had to book as far out as January, meaning they will have to keep their ever-growing meat animals longer, resulting in extra work and expense.
Some farm families might not be well-equipped for keeping their animals into the winter. With so many challenges, area farmers wanted to help.
“The kids put a lot of hard work, passion and money into raising these animals every year. A fair share of the kids come from small family farms. It was definitely a risk that families took to purchase animals but worth the responsibility and work. As a community, so many have come together to provide other opportunities for these kids, which is outstanding,” Hoffman said.
Although the event is not for buying meat, organizers have committed to helping youth find buyers and butchers if they need assistance.
Leanne Hoffman’s daughters—Abbey Hoffman, 11, and Hailey Hoffman, 13—each raised two pigs they had planned to show at the fair.
When the girls heard the fair was canceled, they were heartbroken. Hailey Hoffman had walked her pigs twice a day, getting up as early as 5 a.m. to tend to them.
“These animals are like your best friend all summer long,” Hailey Hoffman said.
In addition to the online sale to drum up funds, Jayson and Courtney Butts are planning a swine exposition; Rock County Beef Producers, a beef exposition; and Rock County Sheep Producers, a sheep exposition. The private shows, which will run July 28-30 on the fairgrounds, will be designed primarily for kids and their families to give youth the chance to get their animals judged.
Attendees will adhere to social-distancing requirements, and the hogs, for example, will be moved from the hog barn to stock pavilion for more space.
“We are doing all we can to create an opportunity for those kids. This is one year they’ll never get back,” Jayson Butts said. “When there are struggles, farmers rally together and the best happens.”