Dane Co. extends mask mandate into October, includes exemptions for performers

MADISON, Wis. — Public health officials in Dane County are extending their indoor mask mandate into October, citing growing coronavirus case numbers due to the delta variant.

The new emergency order will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, September 10 and be in effect until 12:01 a.m. October 8.

The new order includes new exemptions for those who are actively playing a wind instrument that has a fabric bell cover. Those who are presenting or performing a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation are also exempt from the indoor mask mandate as long as other spacing and vaccination requirements are met.

Public Health Madison & Dane County’s previous mask order, which was set to expire next week, was met with criticism from performers as well as school band instructors who were worried the lack of exemptions would lead to canceled performances.

“In light of the absence of CDC guidance, and taking into consideration guidance from other communities, this latest version of the order includes a narrow exemption for certain performers while performing or practicing,” PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said in a statement announcing the order. “We highly encourage all performing arts to consider all the ways in which they can reduce disease transmission, especially as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread in Dane County.”

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Public health officials say while Dane County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country with more than 84% of the eligible population receiving at least one dose, there are still about 75,000 eligible people in the county who are not yet vaccinated.

That number, combined with cooler temperatures coming as fall approaches, led to PHMDC extending its mask order.

“We anticipate seeing more outbreaks and disease transmission as the weather gets colder and schools and universities return to in-person learning,” said Jerry Halverson, MD, Chair of the Board of Health. “Our high level of vaccine coverage in combination with the continued face covering order will hopefully continue to mean that cases in Dane County stay below the state average.”

The Madison Chamber of Commerce has issued a response to the mandate, criticizing it for not making sense.

“The Chamber is pro-mask, pro-vaccination and pro-science, but we are also pro-data,” the Chamber said in a statement Thursday. “Without transparency or a mechanism for public input or discussion, the decision-making process on local health orders is broken.