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Judge Blocks Wisconsin Governor's Indoor Capacity Limits Amid Spike In COVID-19 Cases

A judge has blocked an emergency order issued last week by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration that caps the capacity of bars and other indoor establishments.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services
A judge has blocked an emergency order issued last week by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration that caps the capacity of bars and other indoor establishments.

Updated at 4:59 p.m. ET

A Wisconsin judge has put a temporary hold on an order by Gov. Tony Evers' administration that limits the capacity of bars, restaurants and indoor spaces amid record numbers of coronavirus cases in the state.

The state health department's emergency order capped indoor public gatherings to no more than 25% of the total occupancy limits for the room or building, with exceptions for schools, child care, health care and long-term care facilities.

The order from Sawyer County Circuit Judge John Yackel blocks the new rules, which went into effect Thursday.

The case was brought by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the Sawyer County Tavern League and the Flambeau Forest Inn.

The plaintiffs argued in their lawsuit that if the emergency order is enforced, "it will result in a devastating loss of customers, sales, and revenue that will put Plaintiff Flambeau [and other similarly situated establishments] substantially or entirely out of business."

A court date has been set for Monday, and the judge's action requires attorneys for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to appear in court and defend the order.

The state saw record numbers of both coronavirus casesand deathson Tuesday: 3,279 new confirmed cases and 34 newly reported deaths.

Wisconsin Public Radio reportedon the political context of the case:

"The Tavern League['s] ... lawsuit argues the court should throw out the Evers administration's latest emergency order because it wasn't created through the emergency rulemaking process, a process requiring state lawmakers to approve any restrictions on people and businesses during the pandemic. Using the process would essentially give the GOP-controlled Legislature veto power over any restrictions.

"The Evers administration has argued its powers to act unilaterally to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic haven't expired, because status of the pandemic has changed drastically in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers has issued three states of the emergency responding to the pandemic in Wisconsin since March, which can last for a maximum of 60 days."

In a video statement on Wednesday afternoon, Evers called the judge's decision "dangerous" and said his administration would challenge it.

"Here's the bottom line: We have to stay the course. We are at a critical point in the battle against this virus," the governor said, referring to the record numbers set the day before.

"Just because some folks out there want to see full bars and full hospitals doesn't mean we have to listen. The longer it takes for folks to take this virus seriously, the longer it will take to get our economy and our communities back on track."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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