ELLSWORTH — Citing a "concerning rate" of growth in COVID-19 cases locally and overwhelmed hospitals in the region, Pierce County Public Health on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, issued an advisory restricting public gatherings in the county to 25% occupancy through the end of the year.

The advisory will remain in place until Dec. 31, at which time the county health officer will consider ending, continuing or modifying it.

READ MORE: River Falls High School switches to distance learning as coronavirus spreads through community | UWRF switching to remote instruction after Thanksgiving as pandemic strains hospitals in NW Wisconsin

Though the advisory is not independently enforceable, credible complaints of violations will be taken by local law enforcement and investigated by the county health department, the advisory states.

"This means that if, based on credible, clear and convincing evidence, the Pierce County Public Health Department’s investigation finds that a facility is violating the above guidelines, the Pierce County Public Health Department may issue a specific directive to the individual facility, providing an opportunity to correct or abate the violation," according to the advisory. Violation of that directive could result in further enforcement actions being pursued in court.

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A public gathering is defined as "an indoor event, convening, or collection of individuals, whether planned or spontaneous, that is open to the public and brings together people who are not part of the same household in a single room," such as:

  • Rooms within a business location, store, or facility that allow members of the public to enter.
  • Ticketed events where tickets are available for free or for purchase by any individual or by any individual within a specific class of people.
  • The advisory does not cover areas not open to the public, including office spaces, manufacturing plants, initiation-only events and private residences (except when an event allows the public to enter).

Also exempt from the advisory are, among others:

  • Child care settings;
  • K-12 schools and institutions of higher education;
  • health care and public health operations;
  • churches and places of religious worship;
  • political rallies;
  • government facilities; and
  • public infrastructure operations, such as food production, construction, airports and utilities.

Public gathering spaces without an occupancy limit set by a municipal government are restricted to one person per 113 square feet in the area to be used.

The advisory is similar to an October executive order by Gov. Tony Evers' administration that was blocked in the courts.

Evers declared a new state of emergency Nov. 20 and issued an executive order requiring face coverings indoors with some exceptions. The orders remain in effect for 60 days.

“Wisconsin hospitals are overwhelmed and facing staffing shortages,” Evers said in a statement. “We continue to see record-setting days of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin. We need everyone to stay home and wear a mask if you have to you go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”

There were more than 300 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pierce County over the past week, according to the health department's pandemic dashboard. Contact tracers were unable to contact newly identified cases or close contacts within 24 hours as of Thursday, Nov. 19.

More than 80% of hospital beds and 90% of ICU beds were in use across Wisconsin's northwest hospital region as of Wednesday.