MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Public health officials are closing indoor service at bars in Madison as the Fourth of July weekend approaches and as the number of reported coronavirus cases accelerate, many involving young people in Wisconsin’s largest college community.
The order from Public Health Madison & Dane County effective Thursday allows bars that have patios to keep them open and it limits the number of people who may eat inside restaurants to 25% capacity, the Journal Sentinel reported.
Since June 13, 614 people have tested positive for coronavirus and half of them were between the ages of 18 and 29.
“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, the agency’s director said in a statement.
Bar owners are weighing a legal challenge.
Tavern League of Wisconsin lobbyist Scott Stenger said public health officials are unfairly punishing bar owners and not taking into account what role recent protests over police brutality may 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.
The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper last week that found little evidence that police brutality protests across the country caused a significant increase in infections.
The paper said if the protests had driven a surge in cases the increase would have become apparent within two weeks, but that didn’t happen in many cities with the largest protests, including New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. The protests began the night after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. The paper has not been published by a peer-reviewed journal.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has said that it makes sense to limit bars.
“I do think that we need to continue to concentrate on those businesses that represent uncontrolled spread (of coronavirus),” Johnson said Friday. “And here I’m thinking, tightly packed bars — I know that hurts people to hear me say that, here in Wisconsin; that might be something we need to control” given that the virus can spread through the air and because cases have been increasing in the past few days.
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.