DHS' Emergency Order #5

Effect of DHS’ Order on Municipalities

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ order prohibiting mass gatherings of 10 or more persons contains several exemptions, some of which provide local governments with flexibility in handling government operations during the public health emergency. Exemptions of note for municipalities include:

Exemption # 1 – Transportation

Mass transportation.

Exemption # 5 – Government

Law enforcement … and any facility used to respond to natural disasters or public health emergencies.

State and local government facilities, including government service centers, unless prohibited elsewhere in [the] order or another order.

Some municipalities have expressed uncertainty regarding whether they can choose to be more restrictive than the order. The answer is yes. Local government facilities are exempted, but municipalities may still elect to put in place best practices to contend with the public health emergency they are currently facing. The order provides that voluntary cancelation, closure, or limitations on size of gathering beyond the requirements in the order are permitted. Additionally, the Exemption # 5 language “unless prohibited elsewhere in [the] order or another order” (emphasis added) allows municipalities to issue orders that are more restrictive than DHS’s order regarding local government facilities and makes the exemption subject to the municipal order. The Governor released this FAQ further explaining Exemption # 5.

Despite the exemptions for government facilities, the League is aware that many communities are taking actions to limit gatherings in government facilities, including exploring alternatives such as teleworking, virtual or electronic meetings (in conformity with Open Meetings Law requirements), and emergency leave policies for employees. Social distancing and sanitizing practices may also be used for those employees reporting to work, during any physical meetings of governmental bodies, and for members of the public visiting government facilities (to the extent applicable).