Mass Gathering Guidance

Guidance on Mass Gatherings

September 30, 2020

All social interaction has some level of risk for contracting COVID-19.  The best way to protect yourself and others is to:

  • Continue maintaining your physical distance from other people
  • Stay away from large groups
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Wash your hands, and
  • Wear a cloth face covering

People need to know the risks and balance those with the benefits to make the best decision for their families.  In all cases, however, people should understand their personal responsibility to avoid unknowingly spreading the infection to someone else. 

We want to stress that the protective measures listed above remain important. “We know people are fatigued and some people may think the measures we continue to recommend are unnecessary but this virus is very much in the community and can be extraordinarily serious for some individuals. We can and should move forward but must do so cautiously”, says Debbie Siegenthaler, Iowa County Health Department Director.

COVID-19 doesn't spread itself. People spread it. Our best tools are isolation for those we know are sick and physically distancing ourselves from others. Each of us represents an opportunity to interrupt the transmission of this virus.  The Iowa County COVID-19 Dashboard reveals that a good portion of cases do not have direct exposure to a person known to have COVID-19, which means we continue to experience community spread or a wide circulation of the virus.

We are experiencing an increase in cases in Iowa County just like our neighbor counties as well as the entire state of Wisconsin. Our dashboard is showing an additional red status this week, in the average number of new cases. This average rose to 3.79, up from an average of 1.79 last Monday.  Iowa County is seeing cases increase in all age ranges and across the entire county. There are 46 active cases, double the number last Monday, September 21, 2020. We also have double the outbreaks, six vs three last Monday. “As we keep reiterating, heading into flu season with influenza on top of Covid-19 is a dangerous scenario”, stated Debbie Siegenthaler, Director, Iowa County Health Department. Avoiding a large surge in our hospitals and our public health and emergency response systems must be a goal of every citizen. Northern Wisconsin is experiencing increases in hospital admissions, which is definitely an item we need to watch closely here in southern Wisconsin”, added Siegenthaler.

“The message is simple… YOU stop the spread, so be part of the solution!  Don’t go to crowds and don’t create crowds.  Mask up, keep your small social circles outside, practice social distancing and wash your hands often. Every person and every practice is important and helps us and the entire community with our goals”, Siegenthaler added.  A critically important message to residents who are high risk (60 years and older or have a chronic medical condition or compromised immune status)… please take extra precautions to reduce your exposure.

Another critical message to reinforce is that this virus is very efficient at finding people to infect.  As a result, any time people come together, the virus has a chance to find a new person to infect. A question we continue to receive is regarding planning for large events, including large gatherings such as weddings or community events such as fairs or festivals.  At this time, we continue to advise against large gatherings that bring hundreds of people together.

Public health experts agree that large gatherings of people in sustained, close contact greatly increases the risk for spread of the virus among those who attend the events and to the communities these individuals return to after the event. The communal nature of such events makes it especially challenging to accommodate the physical distancing and sanitation recommendations required to slow the spread of disease.

Current Recommendation

9/30/2020

Recommendations are informed by the status of Iowa County COVID-19 dashboard metrics over time and DHS guidance.

Some of the key data we are monitoring includes:

  • Percent positive tests
  • Local health and response system capacity
  • Community spread
  • Management of outbreaks

This week we see a second week of increases in percent of positive tests and average daily case numbers.  In addition, the number of outbreaks has doubled to six from last week. This is unfortunate as it comes on the heels of trends we had seen late August and early September showing very steady or downward ticking of these metrics. Below are trends in key areas of our local dashboard since mid-July.

Date dashboard was updated

Percent of  tests that are positive

Average number of cases reported per day

Average number of tests per day

Outbreaks metric

Percentage of cases contracted by community spread

July 20

1.45%

.92

42.8

Red

46%

July 27

2.1%

.71

33.1

Red

30%

August 3

2.6%

1.0

37.7

Red

42%

August 10

3.9%

1.71

43.6

Red

38%

August 17

4.2%

2.5

60

Red

54%

August 24

3.8%

2.0

53

Red

46%

August 31

3.3%

1.5

45

Red

43%

September 8

2.0%

0.93

45.4

Red

38%

September 14

1.3%

0.64

49.7

Red

40%

September 21

2.6%

1.79

70

Red

64%

September 28

3.5%

3.79

107.5

Red

60%

The status of key areas of our local dashboard over time indicated that a very cautious move forward in the mass gathering recommendation could occur on September 8th.  As of September 30, 2020, the significant increase in key indicators this week provides concerning information we need to continue to closely monitor. As such, the Iowa County Health Department continues to recommend you not engage in public or private gatherings of people indoors of more than 25 people and outdoors of more than 50 people. For large indoor recreational spaces such as gymnasiums, capacity should be limited to 25% so long as adequate ventilation, social distancing, and adequate masking can be maintained.  Paramount with current guidance are basic principles of social distancing, face coverings, hand sanitizing/hand washing, surface sanitizing and limiting contact with others (including large gatherings of people). All gathering recommendations include maintaining physical distancing and protective measures such as cleaning, sanitizing, wearing masks and handwashing (see protective measures page 5).  As long as physical distancing recommendations remain in place, no event should take place in a venue that does not allow attendees to be spaced at least 6 feet apart, which likely means reducing the maximum capacity of a space.  Since there are no public health orders in place, this is a recommendation not a requirement. 

Public gatherings, especially those that draw thousands from far and wide are those we consider the highest risk in promoting disease transmission and are not recommended by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Iowa County Health Department.  With large gatherings, mitigation efforts such as social distancing and sanitizing are extraordinarily challenging to manage. We would ask our community to help in our public health efforts to reduce disease transmission and not hold these types of events. Wherever possible, we urge event organizers to host virtual or other non-contact events that can build the same sense of community, celebration and engagement.

At this time, DHS does not advise large gatherings, and there is no projected timeframe available as to when this advisory would change. This includes but is not limited to fairs, festivals, parades, and conferences.  https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/distance.htm    

In terms of planning events for this fall and winter, the best guidance is to proceed with extraordinary caution. Begin with asking how you will ensure physical distancing and sanitation and other protective measure recommendations required to slow the spread of disease. Also, consider attendees who are high risk, such as grandparents or those with chronic medical conditions. They should not be asked to choose between putting their health at risk or missing an important memory.

Any entity that is organizing an event should check with their legal counsel and insurance company to be sure they are operating on a firm understanding of their liabilities. Likewise, any municipality that is issuing a license or permit for these types of events should check with their legal counsel and insurance company to be sure they are operating on a firm understanding of their liabilities. If an entity makes the determination to not follow current recommendations, that is their prerogative, but an outbreak attributed to that event may be the burden of the promoters.  Furthermore, if an entity does decide to proceed with an event, how will the safety of participants be planned for, managed, enforced and assured? 

A COVID-19 Safety Plan should indicate:

Social Distancing: How will social distancing be planned for and assured?  Will capacity be limited? What if larger than expected crowds occur, how will this be managed?

Face Coverings/Masks: On July 30, Gov. Evers issued Executive Order #82 to declare a public health emergency as a result of a spike in COVID-19 cases in counties throughout the state. At the same time, Gov. Evers issued a statewide face covering mandate. New cases of COVID-19 slowed down in August as a result of the mandate, but as campuses reopened the last several weeks, there has been a new surge in cases across our state. Yesterday, Gov. Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency in Wisconsin due to recent surge in cases among young people and issued a new face coverings order effective immediately. Orders will expire after sixty days or with a subsequent superseding order.  With yesterday’s new face covering order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit. Visit https://evers.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx  to view Executive Order #90 and Emergency Order #1.

·      Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizing: It should include hand sanitizing stations or hand washing stations generously distributed throughout the event area.

·      Surface Sanitizing: Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces. Sanitizing portable toilets and sitting areas and tables should be frequent. The plan should indicate how they will assure sanitizing will occur.

·      Food: Buffet type food serving systems are strongly discouraged.

Limits on Gatherings*

*Individuals who are at higher risk should consider taking additional precautions

Guidance to follow:

DHS Interim guidance: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/protect.htm  

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/index.html

CDC: https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/topic_files/WIDHS/WIDHS_172/2020/05/15/file_attachments/1452257/CDC-reopen-decision-trees__1452257.pdf

Iowa County is currently in Phase 2 of 4: Recommendations may move forward or back as we monitor the status of our dashboard metrics each week. Some of the key data we are monitoring includes the percent of positive tests, local health and response system capacity, community spread and management of outbreaks. See the full COVID-19 Dashboard at the Iowa County website.

Recommendations for Indoor gatherings; public or private:

Phase 1 guidance:

10 people maximum (not including employees); must maintain physical distancing & protective measures

Phase 2 guidance: (current phase 9/30/2020)

25 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

For large indoor recreational spaces such as gymnasiums, capacity should be limited to 25% capacity so long as adequate ventilation, social distancing, and adequate masking can be maintained

Phase 3 guidance:

50 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

Phase 4 guidance:

100 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

Recommendations for Outdoor gatherings; public or private:

Phase 1 guidance:

25 people maximum (not including employees); must maintain physical distancing & protective measures

Phase 2 guidance: (current phase 9/30/2020)

50 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

Phase 3 guidance:

100 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

Phase 4 guidance:

250 people maximum; physical distancing and protective measures must be maintained

General guidance for all residents:

Physical Distancing and Protective Measures*

*Individuals who are at higher risk (those over 60 and/or with underlying medical conditions) should consider taking additional precautions; telework & tele-education, limiting time outside their home, avoiding crowds of people is encouraged

Guidance to follow:

WEDC: https://wedc.org/reopen-guidelines/

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

DHS: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/protect.htm

Maintain physical distancing and protective measures in all phases

Wash hands often

Cover coughs

Don’t go out if ill, contact provider about being tested for COVID-19

Use of mask or cloth face covering

Surface and object cleaning

Isolation of positive cases

Quarantine of contacts of positive cases

Don’t gather in large groups or create crowds

Voluntary quarantine of travelers from high-risk areas

Physical distancing to 6 feet

COVID 19 resources…

What is COVID-19? How it Spreads and Who’s at Risk?

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Coronavirus is a novel (new) virus so the majority of us have no protection. The tools we currently have to reduce spread are social distancing and additional protective measures of handwashing, wearing cloth masks and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. They are the only tools we have until we get more treatments and a vaccine.

How can I protect myself and others around me?

Does a mask protect me?  Do I need to wash my groceries?

What about gatherings of people?

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/protect.htm

Staying safe at work and taking care of yourself

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/employers.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html

Travel

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/travel.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Additional Important Sources of Information

https://www.iowacounty.org/departments/COVID-19

  • COVID 19 Dashboard (updated each Monday)
  • Daily Iowa County Case Count (updated Monday-Friday)
    • NOTE: New cases are reflected on the Iowa County Health Dept Facebook page each day (Monday thru Friday). The Wisconsin DHS website updates each afternoon with county numbers. We update case numbers that occur over the weekend on the Monday Case Count. All positive cases are reported to the state and followed up on as they have been.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Social Media sites:

Iowa County Public Health on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/iowacountyhealthdepartment/

Upland Hills Health on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/UplandHillsHealthHospital/              

Iowa County Emergency Management on Twitter - https://twitter.com/ICEMWI

Iowa County Emergency Management on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/icemwi/