Madison, Dane Co. mask mandate to expire at the end of the month

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 11:14 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Dane County’s mask mandate will come to an end in two weeks. On Monday, Public Health Madison & Dane Co. announced it will not require face coverings starting at the beginning of next month.

PHMDC said the mask requirement would lapse at midnight on March 1st and a spokesperson for the agency indicated that, in addition to dropping the mandate, health officials have no plans to issue a new emergency order. In a statement, Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi offered his appreciation to the community for “their commitment to keeping (themselves) and (their) neighbors safe through the pandemic.”

“It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure; but your diligence, combined with the amazing work of Public Health and our many community partners, is the reason we have come through the pandemic with one of the lowest per-capita death rates in the nation,” he added.

Health officials credited the decision to the collapsing new COVID-19 case numbers in the county, noting that the seven-day rolling average peaked at 1,491 cases per day on Jan. 12 and has since fallen to 340 cases per day in the latest report. However, PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich warned that just because the mandate is ending doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over.

“Rather, it signals that we have made it through the Omicron surge and are entering a new stage of the pandemic,” she continued. “The most important thing you can do now is to stay up-to-date on our vaccines as they have proven to be highly effective in protecting you from becoming severely ill, ending up in the hospital, or dying from COVID-19.”

PHMDC estimated that 58 percent of Dane Co. residents are up-to-date on their vaccinations, meaning they have completed their initial vaccination series and received a booster or additional dose, when eligible. Dept. of Health Services statewide tracker, which tracks the initial series but not boosters, shows over three-quarters of Dane Co. residents have completed their series, the highest rate in the state.

The expiring mandate had required people in the county to wear masks when at indoor public places unless everyone in the location is vaccinated. PHMDC points out that the expiration of its mandate does not apply to the federal requirement for masks on public transportation, including public transit networks, airplanes, buses and school buses, trains, taxis, Ubers and Lyfts.

Despite the mandate expiring, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway encouraged people to wear them if it made them feel more comfortable, saying “wearing masks, especially well-fitting masks in indoor public settings, has been proven to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.”

Even with cases declining to the point health officials are comfortable letting the requirement end, Dane Co. continues to have a critically high case activity, according to DHS statistics. At its current trajectory, the county could fall under that line when state health officials release their latest disease activity update later this week or next week, but even if it does fall below that threshold, Dane Co. would still likely still land in the ‘very high’ category.

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