A mask mandate sign posted on the front door of a Madison restaurant. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)
Dane County’s health officer extended the county’s mask requirement to slow the spread of COVID-19 Monday, with a new order that takes effect later this week and runs until Nov. 5.
In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the city’s health commissioner has so far declined to institute a new mask order there, telling a city council committee that an order would likely not extend to situations where the virus appears to be most likely to spread.
The new Dane County order will take effect at 12:01 AM Friday, Oct. 8. It is unchanged from the county’s current order, requiring everyone who is age 2 or older to wear a mask when indoors where other people outside of their own household could be present.
Public Health Madison & Dane County reported Monday that the weekly rate of COVID-19 cases in the county stood at 157 per 100,000 population on Sept. 27.
That was down slightly from a week earlier, when the weekly rate was 209 per 100,000 on Sept. 19. But it is still more than seven times the weekly rate two months earlier.
Dane County’s high vaccination rates as well as the county’s emphasis on masking have helped keep infection and hospitalization rates lower, according to the county’s board of health chair, Jerry Halverson, a Madison physician. Masking offers “an extra layer of protection,” stated Janel Heinrich, PHMDC’s director.
More than 73% of Dane County residents 12 or older have been fully vaccinated, but children 11 or younger are not eligible for the vaccine. Because they are more vulnerable to the virus, “it is just as important now as it has ever been to get vaccinated if you can, wear a mask when you should, and wash your hands often,” stated Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.
The PHMDC announcement Monday cites three recent reports — one from researchers affiliated with Stanford and Yale universities, and two from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — confirming the effectiveness of masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community and in schools.
In Milwaukee, a coalition of groups has called for the city to reinstate a mask requirement that it had enacted by city ordinance last year and lifted in June.
At a city council committee meeting last week, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she didn’t favor a city requirement, the online news outlet Urban Milwaukee reported. The issue isn’t the effectiveness of masking, which Johnson agreed has been found to be effective.
Johnson said that the current spread is taking place in surrounding communities and in gatherings in people’s homes — “places the mask mandate would not touch.” She also expressed concern that a mandate could spur the state Legislature’s Republican majority to try to repeal her authority to issue health orders, including quarantine orders.
Milwaukee Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic, who chairs the Pubic Safety & Health Committee at which Johnson spoke, disagreed, Urban Milwaukee reported. She raised the issue of parents who are having to stop working to care for children who must stay home. “It’s an economic issue, it’s a gender issue, it’s a racial issue,” Dimitrijevic said. “It’s time to do everything we can.”
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