A lawsuit challenging a Dane County health order increasing indoor gatherings and sports regulations is heading to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The case is one of several both in Dane County and the state challenging various covid-19 restrictions.
Last week, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to block a Dane County public health order banning indoor gatherings. The state high court is currently deciding whether or not to take the case.
“It’s possible that the court would just enjoin a certain portion of the order or the court could on its own accord enjoin the entire order,” Paulsen says.
That means the state high court could loosen the ban on gatherings, or undo it altogether, says Marci Paulsen, an assistant city attorney for the city of Madison. She says this case mirrors another lawsuit by WILL against a Dane County order that shuts down schools.
The state high court blocked a similar order in Racine until the Dane County case has been decided. A Madison East High School student recently died over Thanksgiving break due to a COVID-related illness, according to the school’s principal.
Speaking with W-O-R-T last week, Luke Berg, a Deputy Counsel for WILL, argued that Public Health Madison and Dane County had overstepped its authority when issuing the regulations.
“The health department can encourage people to stay home, it can suggest that people stay home but it can’t dictate what people do in their home,” Berg said.
Paulsen rebuffed this argument, citing local statutes that she says give the health department the authority to combat the spread of the virus.
“The whole point of this order is because the virus is spreading rapidly throughout our county, and we’re making attempts to slow the spread by limiting gatherings,” Paulsen said.
According to Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW-Health’s Chief Quality officer, Dane County’s covid-19 rates have actually declined in the last few weeks, but he says this could simply be due to a lack of testing over Thanksgiving weekend. Pothof says hospitals are still expecting a surge after the Thanksgiving break.
“We’re all waiting with bated breath, we hope that the message got out there, we were pleading with people not to gather for Thanksgiving,” Pothof says.
Pothof warns that hospitals are running out of options for dealing with another surge, and would likely struggle to expand hospital capacity and staffing.