Dane County extends mask mandate until March 1

Milwaukee's mask advisory continues through March 1

a surgical mask lays near a curb
Richard Harvey (CC-BY)

An “incredibly high” level of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Dane County has prompted local health officials to extend an indoor mask mandate until March 1.

The order requiring face coverings for everyone 2 years of age and older comes as cases have plateaued, but at a very high level. On Wednesday, 181 people were hospitalized, according to the health department’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said the department is using every tool possible to help get through the current surge in cases.

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“It’s possible we’ve peaked. We’d like to believe we’ve peaked. We know that this can’t go on forever at this rate. But we also know there’s a lot of illness going on right now,” she said.

State data shows all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have “critically high” levels of COVID-19 transmission and deaths from COVID-19 are approaching levels not seen since November 2020 when vaccines weren’t yet widely available.

Recently, the city of Milwaukee changed its mask advisory to a requirement that anyone over age 3 wear a face covering until March 1. The measure approved by the city’s Common Council includes no fines for businesses but instead focuses on oversight of business licenses as a potential enforcement mechanism.

In Racine, a mask order has been in effect since August 2021, replacing a previous order that ended when COVID-19 cases dropped, only to surge again. Compliance has sometimes been spotty. There have been complaints but no citations, said Racine’s health administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox.

She said the local police have been helping educate people about the public health order.

“So individuals understand the ordinance, the necessity and importance of protecting themselves as well as their family and friends,” Bowersox said. “Especially when they’re in areas that are crowded like grocery stores and pharmacies that are essential and need to be open.”

In Madison and Dane County, local health officials have received 45 complaints under the current mask order, which began Jan. 3. So far, no citations have been issued. Like other health departments, officials said they hope for voluntary compliance.

This week, Gov. Tony Evers announced his administration has distributed 5.4 million N95/KN95 masks to over 130 different locations across Wisconsin since the start of January.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear these high-quality face masks to ward off the fast-spreading omicron variant.

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