Dane County mask mandate to end Wednesday after 11 months

MADISON, Wis. – For the first time in nearly a year, Dane County won’t have a mask mandate in place starting Wednesday, as the latest public health order with pandemic-related restrictions expires.

The mask mandate went into place on July 13, 2020. It’s been kept in place through a number of orders over the past about 11 months. Over that time, plenty of Dane County residents have gotten pretty used to them.

“It’s gonna be an adjustment,” said Charlett Gerber, who went shopping on State Street Tuesday with her friend Amanda McMillan for the first time since the pandemic began.

“I totally agree, it’s going to feel like you’re naked without it,” McMillan said.

Health experts say in general, if you’re vaccinated, you can feel safe without a mask in most places. Still, a portion of the population remains unvaccinated.

“Only about 50% of people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated,” UW Health’s Dr. Bill Hartman said. “It does appear more than 50% are walking around without a mask on.”

In Dane County, state data shows more than 66% of people have gotten at least one shot.

“I definitely feel safer with the mask mandate,” McMillan said. “Me and most of my loved ones are vaccinated, so I’m not too, too worried, but it’s just an extra precaution I think is important to take.”

“For me, I’m personally happy for the mask to be ending because I got vaccinated and such,” Gerber said.  “I’m more worried about people around me, my grandparents who haven’t gotten vaccinated, the old people in my life, people that are vulnerable, so I’ll keep mine on, too.”

Businesses can still require masks for customers.

“It’s great we are at that point so far, but I still think it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Anthony Rineer, owner of Teddywedgers on State Street.

The restaurant serving traditional Wisconsin-style Cornish pasties encourages, rather than requires, mask-wearing for customers, but workers will keep up the precaution.

“Wearing masks is for others,” Rineer said. “We want to show we care, so we will keep wearing masks.”

Others, such as The Soap Opera down the road will keep a mask policy for customers to protect immunocompromised visitors and children who cannot yet be vaccinated.

Before vaccines, masks were some of the best protection available.

“Masking and other infection-controlling precautions and social distancing worked big time,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services at SSM health. “Look at it this way, we did not see a flu season this winter.”

Doctors say the use of masks helped get us to a more normal-looking summer.

“I think we would have been in a much different place today if we did not heed the warning and institute the mask order,” Kharbat said.

Masks will still be required in places such as hospitals and city buses.