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Madison, Dane Co. health officials urge mask-wearing indoors

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:30 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:27 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Dane Co. health officials are once again urging people to start wearing masks when indoors at public spaces or private gatherings. The move comes shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar guidance for parts of the country where the number of new cases is surging.

In its statement, Public Health Madison and Dane Co. pointed out that the seven-day rolling average in the county spiked over the past several weeks, mushrooming from 7.6 new cases per day a month ago to 31.3 cases per day now. Across Wisconsin, that increase is even greater, with the seven-day rolling average exploding five-fold in a month.

Despite that sharp uptick, local health officials noted Dane Co. currently sits in the CDC’s ‘moderate’ range for community transmission level and it has not yet eclipsed the ‘high’ or ‘substantial’ thresholds set by the federal agency for restoring mask recommendations. County Executive Joe Parisi explained the county is moving now “in an effort to stay ahead of this curve.”

“Being proactive will give our county the best chance of remaining at that lower transmission level and protecting people who are not vaccinated and the most vulnerable, including immunocompromised people, people over 65, and children under 12,” he continued.

UW Health’s Dr. Jeff Pothof said the Delta variant is one factor driving the change in guidance, as there are more breakthrough cases. The CDC now believes vaccinated people may spread the variant just as easy as vaccinated people.

“The level of virus in the back of their nose is at such a high level, they likely can make other people sick, particularly unvaccinated people,” he said.

As it stands, PHMDC’s statement does not mandate wearing masks nor does warn of potential consequences (other than possibly being exposed to or spreading COVID-19) for those who choose not to wear masks indoors. However, for businesses that wish to begin requiring customers to wear masks again, the county is making available ‘masks required’ signs here.

“These numbers serve as a reminder that this pandemic is not over and that COVID-19 still exists in our communities,” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, City of Madison Mayor. “We must continue to do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones, by getting vaccinated and taking simple steps like wearing a mask when needed.”

NEW SCHOOL GUIDANCE

In addition to new recommendations for the public in general, federal health officials also recommended schools require everyone in K-12 schools, including students, teachers, and staff, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

This advice applies nationwide and does not target regions where coronavirus is surging, like the mask recommendations do.

PHMDC officials cited the change Tuesday, releasing its own guidance for Dane Co. K-12 schools. The agency created the guidelines in conjunction with The UW Pediatric Medical Advisory Group. The top two strategies target promoting vaccinations and “consistent and correct mask use” for teachers, students, and staff.

“While the most effective way to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools is to get vaccinated, we hope schools use this guidance to operationalize mask wearing for all teachers, students, and staff at schools, regardless of vaccination status, knowing that using these strategies together have a greater impact than any one strategy on its own,” Heinrich added.

Just last week, Dane County’s largest school district, Madison Metropolitan School District, announced it would require masks for students and staff for the coming year, both in the buildings and on buses.

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