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Order Prohibitting Gathering of 10 or More People

March 17, 2020 5:31 PM | WFDA (Administrator)

The Governor/DHS has revised their prior Order to now prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people as of 5 pm today (March 17).  The Order can be read here.

I note that houses of worship and religious services ARE NOT exempted. We have had several WFDA members say that a priest or pastor has claimed the Order can't apply to a church.  This assumption is entirely wrong- churches are subject to the Order. 

It is noted that the Order refers to "a single room or single confined or single enclosed place," which would imply that the Order does not apply to an open-air graveside service.  However, it is clear that any gathering must maintain "social distancing" of at least 6 feet between individuals.  How this would be accomplished, I leave to you as the creative professionals you are.  I do think that it is reasonable for a funeral practitioner- as an officer of public health under Wisconsin law- to consider that because the social distancing requirement of 6 feet minimum would be very difficult to enforce at a graveside, the Order applies to graveside services even though they are outside.

Other questions that have been asked are whether this means that a funeral home could cycle individuals through for a visitation or whether it applies to an entire facility or just per room.  The Order does not discuss the idea of "cycling" individuals through a facility.  It does, of course, require the minimum of 6 feet of social distancing in all events.  From a public health and communicable disease vector viewpoint, I do think that the idea of "cycling" individuals through your chapel is not an ideal situation.  As we respirate the COVID19 would remain airborne even after any given individual had left the facility.  As to the room v. facility question, the Order does discuss a single room, but it also discusses "single confined space or single enclosed place," which could be interpreted to mean a building or at least the wing of a building.  We simply have no background to base our interpretations on because of the novel nature of this Order.

Further, I note that the Order does give discretion to a business to take greater precautions than the Order specifies.  As such, you are free to make business decisions that would limit gatherings at a cemetery even if it is somewhat questionable as to whether the Order applies to open-air graveside services.  In other words, you can decide that you will not be conducting any gravesides with more than ten people whether or not the Order actually prohibits such. 

Please email or call if you have questions or concerns.  This is a highly organic situation that was evolving day by day but is now changing hour by hour, as we see from the most recent Order of the Governor/DHS changing the gathering ban from less than 50 to less than 10 in just a few hours. 

Best of luck to all of you as you serve your families during this trying time.

Michael D. Sharkey

General Counsel to the WFDA

Direct Dial:  952-525-6990

Fax:  952-546-0628



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