Limiting Public Gatherings On Limited Logic
In the hellscape that is 2020, COVID-19 rages on. To say that the Badger State is being hit hard is a wee bit of an understatement.
According to the Department of Health Services (DHS), the 7 day average of confirmed cases as of 10/7 is 2,346. In other words, for past week, there’s been an average of over 2000 cases per day. Compare this to April or May, when the 7 day average ranged from 700–800 or late August, when it was around 850.
In six weeks, the stat has more than doubled. Talk about the opposite of winning.
Therefore, Governor Tony Evers issued Emergency Order #3 (EO3), “Limiting Public Gatherings” yesterday. EO3 builds upon Executive Order 90 and Emergency Order #1, the Face Mask Mandate, which require face masks in most public places until November 21st.
EO3 limits public gatherings to “no more than 25% of the total occupancy limits for the room or building, as established by the local municipality” from October 8th to November 6th.
The Evers administration defined public gatherings 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.”
There are a host of exceptions:
- Child care settings
- Placements for children in out-of-home care
- 4K-12 schools
- Health care and public health operations
- Long-term care and assisted living facilities
- Public Infrastructure Operations
- State+Local government operations/facilities, such as polling places
- Places of religious worship
- Political rallies, demonstration and other speech protected by the First Amendment
- Federal facilities controlled by the federal government
EO3 does not affect events not open to the public such as workplaces, “invitation” only events and private residences.
The governor announced 100 million in investments to stabilize affected businesses and communities, funded by the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). The investments can be divided as such:
- Over 50 million of $5000 We’re All In Grants to more than 10,000 Wisconsin small businesses
- $20 million for the Wisconsin lodging industry
- $15 million for live music and performance venues throughout Wisconsin
- $10 million to support privately owned movie theaters
- $10 million in additional support for non-profit cultural venues
- $4 million in additional investments for destination marketing organizations and tourism drivers
In modern journalistic parlance, there’s a lot to “unpack” here.
Let’s start with the less controversial Face Mask Mandate. Most can accept wearing a mask indoors for the next couple of months, especially if faced with more stringent measures, such as another shutdown or only curbside pickup. Masks are annoying. No one would choose to use them (aside from cosplayers, perhaps) but they are a temporary inconvenience.
EO3 is quite a stringent measure. The logic of limiting public gatherings initially makes sense, but there’s more to the story, per usual.
Some of the industries who have been absolutely battered by COVID, such as restaurants and theaters, will be forced to 25% occupancy for a month.
Why was 25% occupancy chosen? Why not a third of 50%? E03 doesn’t elaborate upon the reasons, medical or otherwise, which is a misstep.
Imagine if you are a hoppin’ restaurant, filled to the brim on certain days. EO3 cuts off over half of your potential customers.
Will 1–2 $5000 grants allow the restaurants to weather the storm?
Let’s see by doing some math!
According to womply.com, a company directed at assisting local businesses with data, local Wisconsin restaurants brought in $908 per day on average in 2019. If you’re interested in other states, Womply has you covered!
A restaurant was only included in the study if it qualified as a small business.
The daily average for 2020 will most likely be lower due to “Safer At Home” Emergency Order #12 (EMO12) issued on March 24th and the pandemic in general.
EO3 is not as drastic as EMO12, but some restaurants did not survive earlier this year. It’s fair to assume some are still struggling. Let’s also assume that after EMO12 ended in late May, Wisconsin restaurants have been getting close to their 2019 daily totals.
Cutting occupancy to 25% will lead to significant losses.
To err on the safe side, let’s assume that a typical Wisconsin restaurant will lose 25% of its daily revenue due to EO3. We will use the $908 per day figure, as no data is available for 2020.
.25*908 is $227.
EO3 will last from October 8th to November 6th, which is 29 days.
29 days*$227 lost per day =$6583 lost during the EO3’s duration.
One $5000 grant will not cover these losses. Two would, but it is unknown if that’s possible. Restaurants could shift to carry-out, as some did earlier this year, but that could result in delivery fees added to orders, shifting employees to become drivers or partnering with a service such as Uber Eats, which not all restaurants can do.
EO3 will make it tight for restaurants to survive, there’s no question. A similar conclusion can be made for theaters and other hard hit industries.
While EO3 did not offer specific reasons for the 25% limitation, Governor Evers said via Twitter that Wisconsin medical system is “teetering.” On October 1st, the governor issued an emergency order to allow out-of-state healthcare workers in work in Wisconsin. In April, they accounted for 16% of all COVID-19 cases in the state. It’s safe to assume that this trends has continued.
A solid way to measure the state of the health care system is available hospital beds (B) vs COVID-19 inpatients (I). The MacIver Institute had the data for four of Wisconsin’s most populous counties. Per DHS, I will add the number of confirmed cases (CC) in each county.
CC: 10,854 B: 1174 I: 126
CC: 10,734. B: 2105 I: 18
CC: 30,925 B: 4483 I: 145
CC: 8410 B: 1153 I: 33
MacIver did not include some of the recent hotspots, such as Winnebago and Calumet counties, to be fair. Still, a clear trend emerges for some of the most populous counties with the highest case loads: there are a lot of free hospital beds with few COVID-19 patients. Perhaps Governor Evers is trying to get ahead of a mess. It doesn’t seem like the heath care system is teetering right now.
Seeing as younger people are accounting for most of the recent spikes,
As conservative commentator Dan O’Donnell points out, E03 is set to expire three days after the election. You’d have to be super naïve to assume there’s no politics involved. Of course, prominent Republicans such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wasted no time indicating their opposition, signaling a potential court fight.
Finally, EO3 is a one size fits all mandate, much like the original Safer at Home order. While different businesses are treated differently, counties are not. A restaurant in Adams County (population: 20,875) vs. one in Milwaukee County (population: 947,735) is not as likely to spread the contagion, and if it does, there’s fewer people affected.
EO3 is a stringent measure that needs better justification or modification.
Why was 25% occupancy chosen, instead of 33% or 50%? Lost revenue for restaurants and other hard hit businesses will be significant, and may tip more over the edge into bankruptcy.
While health care workers are undoubtedly overworked and contracting COVID at higher rates, there are plenty of available hospital beds and few hospitalized COVID patients currently.
Its one size fits all nature treats all counties the same, which is a mistake.
Though EO3 is well-intentioned, it’s a flawed piece of legislation which will have significant economic and social impacts. It’s also timed to the last month of a presidential election in a contentious battleground state.
Keep all the facts in mind when hearing about or discussing EO3.
An informed electorate is a powerful electorate!