A person works in a cafe while wearing a mask and at a table far away from othersLast week we explained why Dane County is loosening restrictions given our continued decline in case counts and hospitalizations, the increase in vaccinations, and other considerations. As you and your family evaluate your comfort with different types of activities, we want to clear up what Emergency Order #14A allows for gatherings.

All businesses have capacity limits and safety restrictions in place.

For Businesses

Per Emergency Order #14A, all businesses have a capacity limit. For businesses, this is 50% of their approved capacity level.

In addition, every business must have written policies in place to keep people safe:

  • Hygiene policy. Must include measures about how employees with symptoms of COVID-19 will not work, handwashing expectations and supplies for staff, and a description of proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Cleaning policy. Must include cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces multiple times per day, frequently wiping down shared equipment and workspaces, procedure for cleaning common areas and equipment between use or shift changes, and protocols to clean and disinfect in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
  • Protective measures policy. Must include measures ensuring people are at least six feet from others whenever possible and measures ensuring employees are provided with and wear face coverings.
  • Documentation that staff have been trained on these policies.

Businesses must adhere to gathering limits outlined in the order. A gathering includes meetings, trainings, events, and conferences.

For Restaurants and Taverns

At restaurants, indoor dine-in capacity is limited to 50% of approved seating capacity levels. Taverns must limit indoor dine-in capacity to 25% of approved seating capacity levels.

Tables and chairs at restaurants and taverns must be spaced to ensure at least six feet physical distancing between customers who are not members of the same household or living unit. Customers must be seated when not in transit—this means no standing around a bar. Customers must wear face coverings when not actively eating and drinking. This means people must wear a mask when being seated, going to the restroom, placing an order, waiting for an order, etc.

Restaurants and taverns are required to have the policies listed above. They must adhere to gathering limits outlined in the order. If a gathering is taking place inside a restaurant or a tavern, the restaurant or tavern must comply with both the gathering limits and the capacity limits and abide by the lower number. 

All gatherings have limitations for size and safety requirements.

A gathering is a planned event such as a concert, festival, meeting, training, conference, performance, show, sporting event, or party. A gathering can happen anywhere, but often happens at a restaurant, tavern, or venue that is also under capacity limits.

  • Gathering inside where food or drink is offered or provided. Limited to 150 people or less, not including employees. Face coverings are required while not actively eating or drinking.
  • Gathering inside where food or drink is not offered or provided. Limited to 350 people or less, not including employees. Face coverings are required while not actively eating or drinking.
  • Gathering outside (regardless of whether food or drink is offered). Limited to 500 people or less, not including employees. Face coverings are required outdoors while attending a gathering of more than 50 people.

For all gatherings, numbers must be limited to ensure individuals maintain six feet physical distancing at all times. This means that in some spaces, the gathering limit will be lower to meet the distancing requirements of this order.

A Few Examples

Derek and Craig’s Wedding

  • Scenario A. Derek and Craig want to hold their wedding at Dane County Venue A. Dane County Venue A has a capacity for 500 people. Derek and Craig want to offer food and drink at their wedding. Because of the gathering requirement for indoor gatherings where food or drink is offered or provided, 150 people is the maximum number they could invite to their wedding, even though the venue’s capacity is larger. When hosting a gathering, businesses are limited to their capacity or the gathering limit, whichever is lower. The venue must also be able to maintain six feet of distancing between people not from the same household or living unit.
  • Scenario B. Derek and Craig are also interested in hosting their wedding at Dane County Venue B. Venue B has a capacity for 200 people inside. Because the venue is limited to 50% capacity, 100 people is the maximum number they could invite to their wedding, even though the gathering limit allows for up to 150. Derek and Craig would also need to confirm the venue can seat 100 people while still keeping individuals not from the same household or living unit six feet apart. If this cannot be done, they might need to invite even fewer people. 

Jazz Concert

  • Scenario A. Seung is organizing a jazz concert. She’s interested in Madison Venue, which has a capacity of 1,500 people. The concert is only a few hours, and food and drink will not be offered. Even though Madison Venue can fit 750 people at 50% capacity, gatherings inside without food and drink offered are limited to 350 people. This is the maximum number of guests who could attend the concert.
  • Scenario B. Seung realizes it’ll be really warm on the day she’s planning the concert and wants to instead hold it outside in Madison Venue’s outdoor garden space. Because her gathering is outside, the gathering limit is 500 people. However, the garden space isn’t large enough to allow 500 people and also ensure six feet distancing between parties. Seung will need to work with the venue to determine how many people can fit in the space while ensuring distancing.
  • Scenario C. Seung gets an idea to have two stages, one inside and one outside, so people have the option to hear more musicians. The indoor limit for Madison Venue is 350 people (remember no food and drink are being offered) and the outdoor limit is 500 people. For a single event that is happening both indoors and outdoors, organizers cannot exceed the total limits allowed for gatherings. The entire event can have no more than 500 people present at any given time between the two spaces and no more than 350 people may be in the indoor portion of the event at any given time. Again, this all assumes that the space can accommodate that number of people while maintaining six feet distancing between parties.

As a reminder, just because something is allowed does not mean there is no risk or that you have to do it! The loosening restrictions allows individuals and families to assess their own comfort with risks and weigh the benefits of an activity against the risks. Some people might look at these gathering limits and say, “No thanks, I’ll wait until I’m vaccinated.” That is perfectly reasonable. Another family might look at the limits and say, “Attending Derek and Craig’s wedding is really important to us and we feel comfortable with the gathering limits and safety precautions.” That’s perfectly reasonable too.

As the weather gets nicer and there are more opportunities to socialize, people still need to be mindful of risk, wear a mask, and keep distance to stay healthy. Now is a great time to have a conversation with your family and friends about your comfort with certain risks and consider what activities you’re willing to participate in given those risks.

This blog was updated on March 19, 2021 to link to Order #14 Amendment. No content from the blog post has changed.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.