By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers ordered a ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people on Monday, a step in line with federal recommendations that came as other states took similar action to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
Evers tweeted that he was ordering the ban, but said “critical infrastructure and services such as grocery stores, food pantries, childcare centers, pharmacies, and hospitals will be exempt.” The order will force bars and restaurants to limit the number of customers on St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.
He didn’t say how long the order would be in effect. Evers planned to provide more details at an afternoon news conference.
“This isn’t a decision I made lightly and we understand this will have an impact on Wisconsin workers, families, businesses and communities, but keeping folks safe and healthy has to be our highest priority,” Evers tweeted.
Evers’ order comes after he last week declared a public health emergency, ordered all public and private K-12 schools to close no later than Wednesday through at least April 6 and recommended gatherings no larger than 250 people.
Many other states and local jurisdictions across the country, including Dane County in Wisconsin, further limited gatherings to no larger than 50 in recent days. Others that have issued similar orders include neighboring Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington state, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended that gatherings of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed throughout the country for the next eight weeks.
Also on Monday, Wisconsin’s State Emergency Operations Center moved to a Level 1 response in order to coordinate the work of state agencies in one place, the first time it’s been done for a health-related incident.
There were 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, and one person who had recovered, as of Sunday. Those figures were to be updated Monday afternoon. The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene has more than tripled its testing capacity, from up to 100 samples a day to about 300. The Milwaukee Health Department Laboratory has also been testing, but more private labs and hospitals across the state are expected to be able to process tests in the coming days and weeks.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The drive to stop the virus from spreading to the most vulnerable people and to not overwhelm health care systems with sick patients is pushing the urgent calls for people to avoid public crowds or just stay home.
Also on Monday, 29 Wisconsin residents who had been aboard a Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the port of Oakland in California after 21 passengers tested positive for COVID-19 returned home. They were escorted to their homes in state vans by members of the Wisconsin National Guard in the pre-dawn hours after landing at the Guard’s Volk Field air base at Camp Douglas.
None of the passengers from Wisconsin have tested positive for the coronavirus but they will all self-quarantine for the required 14-day period, Evers’ office said.
Two Wisconsin residents remained in quarantine in Texas under the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, citing personal reasons, Evers said in a statement. Seven other passengers on the ship who are Wisconsin residents remain in HHS custody in California, Evers said.