Municipalities Across The State Ease Pandemic Restrictions

More Flexible Guidelines Emphasize Vaccine Distribution, Immunity Rates

A man and a child walk through a bright white hallway past a statue.
Paul Ducat and his daughter, Norah, walk to the galleries Friday, March 5, 2021, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Angela Major/WPR

Dane County, Eau Claire, Milwaukee and other municipalities across the state are hoping for a version of normal this summer as they ease pandemic restrictions and adopt more flexible guidelines that emphasize vaccine distribution and immunity rates.

Nearly 40 percent of people in Dane County have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccination rate is double that for those 65 and older.

“While we are not yet at the place of herd immunity, this is significant protection for our community,” said Madison-Dane County Public Health Director Janel Heinrich during a press conference Friday.

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On Friday, Dane County issued a new public health order that takes effect April 7. It increases the size of outdoor gatherings and permits salad bars and buffets to reopen. People will be allowed to gather outdoors without a mask if they stay six feet apart. Masks are still required indoors.

Mask mandates remain in Dane County and Milwaukee. Similar rules took effect in Green Bay and Eau Claire after the state Supreme Court struck down the state mask mandate Wednesday by declaring Gov. Tony Evers’ successive public health emergencies unlawful.

Earlier this week, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department announced it will no longer have an across-the-board directive on gatherings of a specific size. Instead, it’s focusing on individual situations with “elevated risk.”

“Our plan is to continue to move forward with providing a more normal experience in the community in those public settings and gatherings over time,” Health Department Director Elizabeth Giese said Thursday during a press conference.

Increasing vaccinations and a lower number of new infections is prompting the changes. In Dane County, daily new cases have dropped to the level they were in August. Heinrich said while they want to continue “moving forward, not backwards” Easter gatherings and disregard for COVID-19 precautions still in place could force them to alter their approach.

Cities and counties in Wisconsin are cautiously opening up more venues to a pandemic-weary public even as state health officials warn about new variants.

On March 19, the city of Milwaukee eased COVID-19 restrictions. That order increased capacity at bars and restaurants, opened museums and sporting events and now allows visitors at long-term care facilities.