City of Madison and Dane County employees will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing for the disease, leaders announced Tuesday.
The start date of the new policy is still being decided. Masking will also be required for Dane County’s roughly 2,400 employees along with visitors to county government buildings. In the city, the public is not required to wear a face covering to enter municipal buildings, but Madison’s 2,800 workers will have to mask up.
The new rules come as new infections rise largely due to the more contagious delta variant.
"The delta variant is not last year’s coronavirus. It’s much more serious," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.
The increase in new infections has not resulted in more local hospitalizations or deaths, largely because community vaccination rates are so high, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County Director Janel Heinrich, who said the seven-day average of cases has shot up from seven on June 15 to 66 as of Tuesday.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called the vaccine the "best tool we have" to prevent severe illness or death from COVID-19 and urged other employers to mandate vaccination.
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"We’ve already lost too many people in this community and this country," said Rhodes-Conway as she urged the public to get a shot. Surveys of city workers indicate 9 out of 10 employees are already vaccinated. But she said the city could do better and serve as an example.
In Milwaukee, a Common Council member wants all city workers to be fully vaccinated or face weekly testing. Alder Robert Bauman has asked the City’s Department of Employee Relations to develop the policy as COVID-19 cases in the city continue to increase.
As of Tuesday morning, the level of COVID-19 transmission was substantial or high in over half the state’s 72 counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map which helps residents and public health officials decide whether to take precautions to prevent infection.
A state physicians’ group has urged hospitals and clinics to mandate vaccination for their employees. The Wisconsin Medical Society had earlier said it was an option but recently took a stronger position as new cases increased. The plea Monday from the Medical Society follows last week's call from dozens of national health care organizations, including the American Medical Association, for employer-mandated vaccinations. Health care systems in Wisconsin requiring employer-mandated vaccinations include the Medical College of Wisconsin, Children's Wisconsin, the Mayo Clinic Health System and Ascension Wisconsin.
Other private employers in the health care industry are also requiring worker to be vaccinated. Medical records company Epic Systems recently announced its workers have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.