Group sues to end Dane County gatherings order ahead of Thanksgiving

MADISON (WKOW) -- A conservative law firm is suing Dane County over its recent public healthorder prohibiting mass gatheringsasking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to immediately halt the order as Thanksgiving approaches.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) argues the order is harmful to families and negativity impacts businesses. The lawsuit also alleges local health departments should not issue public health orders, instead, they should be enacted by the Madison City Council or Dane County Board of Supervisors.

“The latest order from the health department in Dane County illustrates why a single, unelected and unaccountable health official should not be allowed to rule unilaterally by decree," said Rick Esenberg, WILL President and General Counsel.

WILL filed an original action with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on behalf of a Dane County business owner and two Dane County residents. They are asking the high court to halt the recent ban on all private gatherings in homes and on all indoor sports activities from Public Health Dane and Madison, the Dane County health department.

Dane County recently banned indoor gatherings, unless it's with people in your immediate household, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic about a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. The ban on gatherings is currently in effect until December 16.

"Conservative legal activists have spent the better part of the past 7 months fighting medicine and the only interventions available to slowing the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic," Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a statement. "Now, Wisconsin is in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in our state's history because groups like this fought masks and social distancing for months, sowing chaos that's now resulted in overflowing hospitals."

The action by WILL also argues that the county'sEmergency Order #10, prohibiting sports-related businesses, also violates other statutes and constitutional rights.

"COVID-19 should be taken seriously. But these decisions must be made by the local governing body. Banning private family gatherings just before Thanksgiving, while allowing Black Friday shopping, makes little sense," Esenberg said.

Dane County leaders advised people against getting together with friends and families during a press conference earlier this month due to the recent surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

"Every gathering – no matter the size – is an opportunity for disease spread and prolongs the pandemic," said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County said after announcing the new health order. "We are hopeful that with the community’s cooperation, we can bring our numbers down and avoid more hospitalizations and deaths."

The CDC, state, and local officials are discouraging people from gathering with family and friends outside their immediate household as the pandemic rages on.

More at WKOW 27 News

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