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Judge blocks enforcement of Wisconsin's COVID-19 indoor capacity restrictions

The judge issued a temporary restraining order following a lawsuit that claims restaurant capacity restrictions are unlawful.
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Another lawsuit has stopped Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' administration's attempts to control the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This comes as the state grapples with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country – cases are surging, daily death rates are at a high and some hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

To help control this, Evers directed Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm on Oct. 6 to issue an emergency order that limits how many people can be in public indoor places, such as bars and restaurants, to 25% of the room's capacity starting Oct. 8 and ending Nov. 6.

At the time, Evers said, “We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” noting he believes limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of the virus. 

Wisconsin had not had statewide capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and other non-essential retail since May, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against the state's original Safer at Home Order. 

And the new restrictions didn't last long. The Tavern League of Wisconsin, a powerful beverage retailer lobbying group, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Sawyer County, in northwestern Wisconsin, seeking to immediately block the enforcement of the order, saying it amounts to a "defacto closure," Channel 3000 says.

In a Facebook post, the Tavern League said it is an "unlawful order" that sets "arbitrary capacity limits," claiming it will result in "catastrophic losses in the hospitality industry in Wisconsin."

The other plaintiffs in the case are Flambeau Forest Inn in Winter and the Sawyer County Tavern League.

Judge grants temporary restraining order

Hours later, on Wednesday morning, Judge John M. Yackel issued a temporary restraining order against the Evers administration on enforcing the capacity restrictions, WBAY reports.

The Tavern League in a Facebook post said the temporary order means enforcement of the statewide capacity restrictions is put on hold until the court can decide on the case. There is a hearing scheduled for Monday. 

Meanwhile, local orders pertaining to capacity restrictions, which some cities have enacted, remain in effect.

In a previous Facebook post, the Tavern League stressed that establishments are committed to keeping people safe and encouraged Tavern League members to follow the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation COVID-19 guidelines.

This isn't the only effort to stop the Evers Administration from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. 

The Wisconsin Legislature, which is controlled by the GOP, has been sparring with Evers, a Democrat, over the response to the pandemic, often supporting efforts to block Evers' orders.

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Most recently, Republican lawmakers supported a temporary restraining order pursued by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty to stop the state's order requiring face coverings in public places

On Tuesday, a St. Croix County Circuit Court judge rejected the temporary restraining order, which Evers called a "victory in our fight against COVID-19 and our efforts to keep the people of Wisconsin safe and healthy."

Wisconsin on Tuesday reported 3,279 new cases of COVID-19, breaking a record that was set five days prior. There were also 34 deaths reported, another new high.

The latest forecast from Novak Weather

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