Dane County, Milwaukee To End Mask Mandates In June

Protection From Vaccine, Dropping Case Numbers Are Enough, Health Officials Say

A sign on a clear glass door says "Face Covering Required."
Signs instruct customers to wear face masks and maintain social distancing Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Dane County was one of the first in Wisconsin to issue a mask mandate in response to COVID-19 but is now joining many other communities in dropping pandemic-related restrictions.

On Tuesday, health officials from the county and city of Madison announced they will lift health orders requiring masks, limiting the size of gatherings and reducing capacity at establishments starting June 2. Officials pointed to Dane County’s high vaccination rates and low number of new COVID-19 cases.

“Today I applaud the 63% of Dane County residents who have gotten vaccinated. This extremely high number allows us to make the decision today to lift our orders on June 2, when we estimate that 75% of those eligible for vaccine will have received their first dose,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County in a statement.

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A woman is seen past the lens of a tv camera as she speaks at a press conference.
Public Health Madison and Dane County Director Janel Heinrich speaks at a news conference Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The pandemic requirements now in place will be voluntary when the order expires and Heinrich said individuals and businesses will have to make decisions that support the health and comfort of themselves and their customers.

The city-county public health order requiring masks began 10 months ago when the seven-day average for new coronavirus cases topped 100. Now, new infections are averaging 20 a week. Since vaccinations began in mid-December, 54 percent of those age 12 and over in Dane County are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 63 percent have received at least one dose.

Health officials are still asking those who have not been vaccinated to wear masks in public. Businesses and other organizations will still be able to enforce their own COVID-19 policies if they choose.

Meanwhile, later in the day, Milwaukee health officials announced they too would be dropping mask requirements and other limitations, starting June 1. It’s a change from just last week when the city said they would lift capacity and gathering limits starting June 15 while leaving masking rules in place.

During a media briefing Tuesday, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said even with an accelerated end to restrictions, unvaccinated people should still follow guidelines voluntarily.

“We are trusting individuals, residents in city of Milwaukee to be honest and wear a mask if they are unvaccinated, really encouraging people to get vaccinated so they can be unmasked safely,” said Johnson.

The state of Wisconsin has not had a mask mandate since March when the state Supreme Court struck down the governor’s ability to issue repeated emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ended the mask mandate.

However, that decision did not apply to local mask orders which remained in place in some communities with Madison and Milwaukee among the last holdouts.

But after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with guidance Thursday telling fully vaccinated people they could go without a mask, and state health officials came out with similar guidance a day later, many Wisconsin communities scrapped or revised their mask orders.