Dane Co. health officials urge caution with new CDC mask guidelines

There is no real enforcement mechanism for the guidelines, so officials warn people to gather only with people they trust.
Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 6:40 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The U.S. took another step towards normalcy Tuesday—for fully vaccinated adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines saying fully vaccinated people can gather outdoors in small groups without wearing masks.

The guidelines also said both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people can exercise outside with members of their household without masks. Unvaccinated people can also attend small outdoor gatherings but should keep their mask on unless everyone else is fully vaccinated.

Dane County health officials celebrated the guidelines as a small step towards normalcy but urged people to remain careful.

“I think the default position should be that you wear a mask and then you can think about what are some narrow carve outs where you don’t have to wear a mask,” said Nasia Safdar, UW Health medical director for infection prevention.

There is no mechanism to full enforce these guidelines.

“A lot of the public health falls upon the responsibility of the individual,” Safdar explained.

Officials recommend people should gather only with those they trust and keep groups small.

“For those people who are unvaccinated and still choose to go unmasked, I don’t know if there is much we can do to reinforce that,” said Alison Schwartz, SSM Health associate medial director of infectious diseases.

Schwartz and Safdar did say they hope the new guidelines provide an extra incentive for people to get a COVID-19 vaccine, particularly those who may be on the fence.

“I think initially, there had been some hesitation from people who are not vaccinated to say, ‘Well look, if the guidelines are the same whether I’m vaccinated or not and I still need to wear a mask and I still need to socially distance and I still can’t do all these things, then is there really a benefit to get vaccinated?’” Schwartz explained.

In Dane County, the guidelines will not have a major impact. The current emergency order from Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) already follows the news guidelines fairly closely.

“We really still want to be somewhat conservative on the guidelines we’re putting out,” said PHMDC operations section chief Doug Voegeli.

Overall county vaccinations numbers are high, with nearly 60 percent of residents having received at least one dose.

“We’re also very happy about the percentage of our 65 plus population being well over 90 percent fully vaccinated,” Voegeli said.

The U.S. is still far from herd immunity or pre-pandemic life, but local officials said the guidelines are a positive step.

“This is certainly not normal-normal, but it may be our new normal for a little bit and it certainly is better than where we were before,” Schwartz said.

The guidelines also reinforce that getting vaccinated is the safest thing to do.

“We can have masking, we can have physical distancing, and those things will remain, but the real game changer for this year for everyone is going to be the vaccination,” Safdar said.

The new guidelines do not apply to indoor public places and large outdoor gatherings. In those settings, CDC guidelines say it is still best to wear a mask and social distance.

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