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Dane Co., Madison require vaccines or weekly COVID-19 tests

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 10:39 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:18 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Madison and Dane Co. to require all its employees to be vaccinated or to take a weekly COVID-19 test.

Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday. They noted that the mandate will apply to remote workers as well.

Those who do not comply with the vaccine regulation would be considered to have committed a “work-rule violation,” they explained. No specific repercussions for the violation were stated.

People who do business with the city or county will be required to wear masks as well.

The policy will go into effect over the next week or two, Rhodes-Conway said. Neither she nor Parisi detailed if workers who begin their vaccination sequence will be required to be tested weekly

Members of the general public will not be required to prove they are vaccinated, both Parisi and Rhodes-Conway confirmed. When asked, Parisi said, “not at this point, just a mask mandate.”

In a statement before the announcement, Public Health Madison and Dane Co. explained further policies would be required because the spread of the Delta variant in Madison and the county.

“Local leaders are taking proactive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent severe outcomes because of the virus,” it wrote in the advisory.

In its weekly blog post Thursday, PHMDC reported that 85 percent of July cases that were sequenced to check for variants were determined to be the Delta variant. Not all new cases are tested for variant, only a limited number, with the agency stating 27 samples were tested, 23 of which were found to be that variety.

“Delta is the dominant strain of virus in Dane County,” PHMDC wrote. “Delta continues to be concerning due to its high transmissibility.”

MASKS IN DANE CO. & WISCONSIN

The blog post followed PHMDC echoing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newly issued guidance recommending the everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in counties where transmission was considered “substantial” or “high” wear masks at indoor public locations and indoor private gatherings.

PHMDC issued its own recommendations just hours later, urging residents to wear masks. At the time, the county had not yet crossed those CDC thresholds. However, by the end of the week, Dane Co. and Rock Co. had crossed into the “substantial” category and, as of Monday, most of southern Wisconsin and much of the rest of the state had crossed into that level, while a few had reached “high” status.

Dane Co. continues to lead the state in vaccination rates with over 70 percent of the total population having received at least one dose. That number jumps to just above 82 percent and when only counting those over 18-years-old. More than two-thirds having completed their series of the population have completed their series; and nearly 8 in 10 residents when counting just adults.

GOP CLAIMS CONTOL UW PROTOCOLS

While the county moves on new vaccine protocols, some Republicans in the state legislature want the power to block one of the region’s largest employers from making similar requirements for its staff.

State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said last week he wanted to require UW System to get approval from the GOP-controlled state legislature before enacting coronavirus-related regulations, such as testing, masking, or vaccinations.

On Tuesday, the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted 6-4 to rule that they have final oversight over any COVID-19 action by the universities by declaring it a rule making procedure. The vote by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules came without a formal meeting or public comment.

“Today’s action feels like a political statement,” UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said. “Our focus is to ensure we are doing what needs to be done to safely open for in-person teaching this fall.”

Last week, UW System President Tommy Thompson blasted the proposal, arguing it would strip the universities of the “tool (they) so successfully used to date to address the outbreaks and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The one-time Republican governor of Wisconsin went so far as to recount his position within the George W. Bush Administration when making his case, arguing that his former position as Health and Human Services Secretary gives him additional insight to combating the spread of the virus.

EPIC MANDATES VACCINE

Another one of the region’s top employers, Epic Systems, did go ahead with its plan to require all U.S.-based employees to be fully vaccinated by October. In an all-staff letter, it explained the rise in cases across the country prompted the decision.

“We need our staff to be fully vaccinated to continue our important work,” the letter stated. “We will work with each employee to discuss how they can safely get vaccinated, but we recognize some employees may choose not to get vaccinated and hence will not be able to continue in their role.”

The new mandate will only directly affect a tiny fraction of Epic’s staff, according to numbers from the company. Sr. Vice President of Technical Services Brett Rehm and Vice President of Implementation Tina Perkins report that nearly 97% of the Verona-based company’s staff have been fully vaccinated.

Epic noted that employees would want to receive their final dose before September 17 in order to meet the Oct. 1 deadline. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their last dose.

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