Dane Co. mask mandate extended again
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As new COVID-19 cases in Dane Co. only begin to dip from the all-time highs set over the course of the past two weeks, local health officials moved forward with an extension to the county’s ongoing mask mandate.
Public Health Madison and Dane County’s new order effectively extends the current one, only changing the expiration date. The order requires nearly everyone over 2 years old to wear a face covering or mask when inside an enclosed public space where other people, except for members of the person’s own household or living unit are present. It will remain in effect until March 1.
The same exemptions carry over from the original order, allowing for masks to be removed when eating or drinking, when talking to someone hard of hearing, or during certain types of performances, among other situations. It also maintains the carve out for enclosed public spaces in which everyone in the room is vaccinated.
The announcement comes less than a week before the current order was set to expire. Health officials announced that extension with two weeks remaining in the old order but had remained silent until now about whether a new one would come and if there would be changes.
Just last week, Dane Co. recorded the highest single-day number of cases since the pandemic began, with 1,980 positive tests tallied last Wednesday alone. By the time of that peak, however, the seven-day rolling average, which is designed to mitigate day-to-day volatility and give a clearer representation of trends, had already started slipping.
The rolling average topped out exactly a week earlier, on Jan. 12, when it was sitting at nearly 1,500 cases per day over the preceding week. Since that time, the rolling average has dropped by a quarter, from 1,491 cases per day then to 1,089 per day now.
That trend could continue as recent days have seen much lower case counts than were recorded over the rest of January. Going into Wednesday, only seven of the 25 daily reports this month saw fewer than 1,000 cases, with three of them coming in the past three days. In fact, none of those most recent days had a case count higher than 634 in a single day and the three days combined (1,826) were below the one-day record high set last week.
“We are certainly still seeing incredibly high rates of illness and hospitalization, however, it does appear that we have reached a plateau in this surge of cases fueled by the Omicron variant,” PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said. “This does not mean it is the time to let our guard down; we must continue to collectively take as many steps as possible to reduce risk of transmission, including masking.”
While the most recent figures show an improvement over recent weeks, the county remains gripped by unprecedented case counts. Even the relatively low (by January standards) 567 new cases reported Tuesday is higher than all but two days ever reported in Dane Co. prior to the ongoing surge and the seven-day rolling average never exceeded 500 cases per day – or half of where it stands now.
Since that last order and with the influx in cases over the past weeks, Dane Co. has topped more than 100,000 total cases since the pandemic began.
Masking Up Right
PHMDC used its announcement to remind residents that masks are an effective way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, if they are worn “consistently and correctly.” While some masks, such as N95s or KN95s, offer greater protection, the agency says that the most important thing is to have a face covering that fits well and is comfortable.
“With the highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant, wearing a well-fitted mask is more important now than ever,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “With the help of Public Health, we are distributing 100,000 KN95 face masks to non-profit organizations around Dane County, free of charge, which will then be shared with the community.”
Health officials offered the following tips for making sure a mask is doing its job:
- Make sure your mask has a tight seal around your face.
- If you have to talk with a mask on, it should stay over your mouth and nose when talking
- Wear a cloth mask over your surgical mask for a tighter fit.
- Consider other fit tools, like mask tape, mask braces, or cord locks.
Highest Vaccination Rates
Dane Co. continues to lead Wisconsin in vaccination rates with over three-quarter of residents being fully vaccinated, i.e. having completed their first vaccination series and the subsequent two week period afterwards, according to Dept. of Health Services.
State numbers also show that more than four in five Dane Co. residents have gone for at least a single dose of one of the vaccines.
Statewide, fewer than 60 percent of Wisconsinites have completed their vaccination series, DHS reports.
In Wednesday’s statement, local health officials highlighted their efforts to accelerate their mobile vaccination efforts. They noted that hundreds of vaccinations are happening every week at recurring clinics and the more permanent locations. A list of clinics is available here.
“We are doing everything we can, but we need your help. Please, get a test if you are feeling ill. If you haven’t yet, get your vaccine and your booster. Upgrade your masks. With your help we will weather this storm together,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.
A State Supreme Court Hearing
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a little more than a month on whether PHMDC and local health officials have the authority to issue sweeping COVID-19 orders. The case, brought by a Dane Co. resident and a business, was filed over the summer, and came in response to the agency’s executive orders. They argue that a health department is not allowed to issue orders that restrict daily life without approval from a legislative body.
That case is set to be heard in March. A Dane Co. Circuit Court had originally ruled in favor of the county, but the plaintiff’s appealed and the state Justices agreed to take the case late last month.
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