To help reduce COVID-19 spread, Dane County’s indoor mask mandate extended until Nov. 5

Dane County is the only one of Wisconsin's 72 counties to still have such a public health order

A sign advises shoppers to wear masks outside of a store 
A sign advises shoppers to wear masks outside of a store Monday, July 19, 2021, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Los Angeles County has reinstated an indoor mask mandate due to rising COVID-19 cases. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Dane County’s current indoor mask mandate meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 will expire Friday and be replaced by a new public health order with the same requirements. The newly issued order is the only county-wide mandate in the state, and it will last until Nov. 5.

COVID-19 cases nationally have leveled off, but in Wisconsin new infections have grown by 14 percent in the last two weeks. In Dane County, new cases have declined somewhat but local health officials say disease is still widespread. Cases in the past two weeks have declined 5 percent and hospitalizations are down slightly, according to the Public Health Madison and Dane County COVID-19 dashboard.

Dane County continues to stress vaccination as its top intervention against COVID-19 and is one of the most vaccinated counties in the state. But unlike Milwaukee County, where health officials have also stressed vaccination, Dane County is continuing its policy of having everyone over the age of 2 to wear masks indoors.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“As we’ve done all along with our layered mitigation approach, we’ll keep masks as an extra layer of protection as we navigate our way to lower levels of CDC’s community transmission thresholds,” said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County.

Since Sept. 9, when Dane County’s current face mask order was implemented, there have been 280 complaints filed against businesses and organizations for noncompliance — about 10 percent of those have received a second complaint and additional education on the mandate.

The businesses getting more than one complaint have included convenience stores, hair salons, a church, restaurants and gyms, according to a list shared with Wisconsin Public Radio. Officials with the public health department are stressing education over enforcement. However, three of the 280 organizations have been given a final warning before a possible citation is issued, said spokesperson Morgan Finke.

In August, the Wisconsin Supreme Court effectively allowed the county’s mask mandate to remain in place by issuing an order denying a request to hear a lawsuit against it. The high court left it up to the state’s lower courts to consider any future legal challenges first.

That legal challenge was brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which continues to question whether such orders are lawful, maintaining only a county board can impose such restrictions.

In Milwaukee, parents, teachers, hospitality workers and health care professionals recently asked public health officials there to reinstate its indoor mask mandate. The coalition said in a letter than universal indoor masking and physical distancing are proven methods to control the spread of COVID-19 and cited increasing rates of COVID-19 infections among children, many of whom can’t be vaccinated yet, as reasons to impose such a mandate.

But Milwaukee health officials have said they would not reissue a mask mandate because it wouldn’t slow the pandemic.

With the emergence of the more contagious delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that everyone over 2 years old wear a face mask in indoor public places.

Many Wisconsin communities that had mask mandates earlier in the pandemic chose to drop them this summer when positive cases went down.

But Heinrich says Dane County shouldn’t let up its guard just yet.

“Throughout this pandemic what we know to be true is the unpredictability of this virus,” Heinrich said. “So I think it’s important to not let go of the prevention strategies too soon.”

On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that people who have been identified as being in close contact with an infected person can be notified by text message in addition to an email or phone call. The text will be sent from 844-939-2782 and the message will read, “Health alert: You have been identified as a close contact to COVID-19.” Officials say the change is designed to get information out as quickly as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19.