Dane County mask mandate begins Monday at 8 a.m.
The order applies indoors in public - and, in some cases, at home
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Health officials will require masks for nearly everyone in Madison and Dane County when they are indoors with other people who are not members of their immediate households starting Monday at 8 a.m.
Last week, Public Health Madison and Dane County announced the new emergency order, which applies to everyone over the age of five. It will apply to the entire county.
“The more that we can wear the mask and the better we do at it, the farther along we can move along with progressing and getting things opened back up.” said Environmental Health Director Doug Voegeli. “So it’s kind of incumbent on us as a community to help us move along as a community.”
The order mandates people wear a face covering that covers both their nose and mouth when they are in public, pointing out that those instances include business and health care settings, while waiting in line, and on public transportation.
It even applies to when someone is visiting another individual’s home, the agency noted.
“Public health research now shows that face coverings are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said. “Given the current number of COVID-19 infections in our county, we need to all be wearing face coverings every time we leave the house.”
Health officials explained wearing face coverings do not just prevent sick people from spreading the virus. They also protect healthy people from getting sick.
“Even people who are completely healthy, they don’t have the disease, it’s not incubating in them, if they wear a mask and they come into contact with someone who has the disease and is unmasked, their risk of getting their disease actually goes down,” said Jeffrey Pothof, UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer.
Pothof added that everyone wearing face coverings also lowers the risk of people who have COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms infecting others.
“If we all just wear a face mask when we’re out in public and could be close to other people, we can mitigate those risks of, ‘I don’t know that I’m sick but I’m going to be sick and just by talking I can spread it',” he explained.
The order does make exceptions for activities like eating at restaurants, however, a statement from PHMDC points out that in instances like those people are already required to socially distance.
“The recent spike in cases showed that asymptomatic cases were on the rise in Dane County and so was community spread with no known source of infection. If people are sick and don’t know it, mandatory masking protects all of us,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.
There are also carve outs for people who have a physical, mental, or developmental condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.
“Where we probably see the most exemptions that make sense are individuals with certain mental health problems that preclude them from wearing a mask without exacerbating those mental health problems,” Pothof said.
Seemingly referencing some of the controversy over the wearing of masks nationwide, Heinrich urged people to assume both that people are wearing masks to protect themselves and those around them and people who aren’t have a genuine reason why they can’t.
While masks will certainly be the most common, the order does allow for other ways to stay in compliance without one, such as by using a bandana or a scarf.
“First of all I think it’s a fantastic step. We need to protect our loved ones, our neighbors, people when we go to the grocery store, etc.,” says Alder Sheri Carter, District 14.
NBC15 also spoke to Marlow Hicks, co-owner of the gym Fortify Fitness, which opened for the first time just one week before the mask mandate took effect. Hicks said it has been challenging staying ahead of the changes, but his members’ safety is the first priority.
“[We] went and ordered these logo masks for all of our members so they at least had something, and we really have just told them to go ahead and embrace that challenge,” Hicks explained.
No potential end date for the order, which also re-asserts previous restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings, was listed.
Individuals and businesses that repeatedly flout Dane County’s impending order requiring most people to wear masks in many situations could face hundreds of dollars in fines.
According to Public Health Madison & Dane County, the complaint team it formed to respond to potential infractions will chiefly focus on educating unmasked violators.
“The goal of this team is to ensure that face coverings are worn when required by providing education first before looking towards enforcement,” the agency writes on its website.
However, PHMDC warns people who rebuff the order or businesses that don’t enforce it, for example by not requiring customers or staff to wear masks at large indoor events, could be cited. Those tickets would run:
- MADISON: $376
- DANE COUNTY: $263.50
Leaving others alone
While PHMDC has a team ready to educate and enforce the new requirement, the agency is also urging people not to take it upon themselves to intervene with others they believe aren’t following the rules.
“It is not your job to intervene if someone isn’t wearing a mask,” it wrote.
The agency points out that some people have conditions and circumstances that won’t allow them to wear a mask. For those individuals, as well as those under five years old, the emergency order has carved out an exemption.
Health officials say in cases where someone is near an individual not wearing a mask, they should simply continue wearing theirs and stay six feet away from others.
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