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Appeals court stays Wisconsin limits on gatherings

Appeals court stays Wisconsin limits on gatherings

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin appeals court on Friday temporarily blocked Gov. Tony Evers’ restrictions on indoor public gatherings pending appeal, dealing the Democratic governor a setback in his efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Evers’ administration issued an emergency order on Oct. 6 limiting the size of indoor public gatherings to 25% of a building or room’s capacity or 10 people in places without an occupancy limit until Nov. 15.

The order came as COVID-19 cases surged in Wisconsin. This week, the state was fourth in the nation in most new cases per capita over the last two weeks with nearly 757 cases per 100,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Health officials said the state’s hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

But the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin argued the capacity limits amount to a “de facto closure” order for bars and restaurants and filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down the order. A Sawyer County judge on Oct. 14 blocked the order, but a Barron County judge reinstated it five days later.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Nearly 4,400 more Wisconsin residents have contracted COVID-19 as the disease continues to surge unchecked across the state, health officials said Friday.

The state Department of Health Services reported 4,378 newly confirmed cases on Friday. The daily record is 4,591 cases, set on Tuesday. The state has now seen 190,478 cases since the pandemic began in March.

DHS reported 42 more people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,745. The overall mortality rate stood at 0.9% of total infections as of Friday.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 1,243 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, setting a record for the second straight day. Two patients were in a field hospital at the state fairgrounds in West Allis as of Friday.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ chief-of-staff, Jenny Toftness, contracted the virus after attending a retirement party for a state Capitol staffer in September.

Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, said Toftness quarantined herself when she learned she had been exposed and has fully recovered. Vos himself hasn’t been in close contact with Toftness recently and has not contracted the virus, Beyer said.

Republican leaders declined to disclose how many or which lawmakers have contracted the COVID-19 virus. GOP legislators have pushed back against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' efforts to control the surge. They persuaded the state Supreme Court in May to strike down Evers' stay-at-home order. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm closely aligned with Republicans, is challenging Evers' statewide mask mandate in a separate case.

The Legislature's human resources director didn't respond to the Journal Sentinel's questions about whether the office has received reports of infections or potential exposures among people who work in the Capitol or whether the Legislature has a policy of notifying people about potential exposures.

Democratic state Rep. David Bowen and Republican Rep. Scott Allen have both shared publicly that they have tested positive.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, met with University of Wisconsin System officials as well as Vos and Senate President Roger Roth in Madison on Friday.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that she encouraged UW System officials to test all students at least once a week to detect asymptomatic carriers. She discussed with the legislators whether such testing could be done at the county level.

She said cooler fall temperatures have driven gatherings indoors where the virus can spread more easily. She urged people to wear masks and maintain social distancing in both public places and private homes.

“The spread that you're experiencing is diffuse, it is in the community, and it is in both rural and urban communities,” she said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “You have to stop the silent spread that's occurring in communities by people who don't know they're infected but are highly infectious.”

Birx's visit came a day before President Donald Trump was scheduled to hold a campaign rally in Waukesha. Thousands were expected to attend. Asked whether rallygoers should wear masks, Birx didn't answer directly, instead encouraging everyone to use them.

Vos said in a statement that he shares her concerns about the virus’ surge in Wisconsin and he wants everyone to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands.

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This story has been updated to correct that Republican lawmakers are not part of the gathering restrictions lawsuit.