‘We’re not quite there yet’: Despite loosened restrictions on gatherings, Dane County officials urge caution over holidays

MADISON, Wis. – Despite an emergency health order that eases restrictions in Dane County going into effect nine days before Christmas, public health officials are urging people not to let their guard down over the holidays.

Emergency Health Order #11 goes into effect Wednesday and lasts for 28 days.

The order allows for indoor gatherings of up to 10 people with face coverings and physical distancing and limits outdoor gatherings to 25 people. Previously, Public Health Madison & Dane County banned indoor gatherings of any size and limited outdoor meetings to 10 people. That order remains in effect through Tuesday

According to PHMDC, at the point when the previous order was issued in November, the 7-day average number of new cases a day was 487. On Tuesday, that number was 171. Hospitalizations decreased from 158 to 135 within that time period.

“It’s exciting. There’s hope. We have a new year. We have a vaccine coming. And we’re not quite there yet,” PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said. “Please continue to wear your face coverings. Keep your distancing to the greatest extent possible. Limit your gathering size.”

Though things are moving in the right direction, Heinrich stressed that the new order isn’t a green light for in-person holiday celebrations.

“We’re not normal yet. Every time we’ve scaled up, we’ve become a little more accustomed to having more illness in our community. This is still severe. We’re still learning more about it every day,” she said. “We’re still asking folks to consider how, whatever you celebrate, to celebrate differently. Perhaps postpone. Find ways to do it outside.”

On Tuesday, Ryan Bailey and Kevin Adler met outside at Olin Park, giving their sons the opportunity to get out of the house safely with some sledding.

“We have to get out of the house, for sure, just for our sanity and exercise and socialization,” Adler said.

Order or not, both said they were planning to play it safe over the holidays.

“My wife’s a nurse, so she understands more than ever the importance of safety,” Bailey said. “It’s just one Christmas, one year. It’s better to stay safe, and there will be next year and more years.”