Experts weigh in on a possible return of mask mandates and Covid variants

MADISON, Wis. — A return of a mask mandate in the fall is possible in Dane County according to UW Health’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention Dr. Nasia Sadfar.

15 counties in the state of Wisconsin in the past couple weeks have experienced high levels of coronavirus cases, many likely caused by the Delta variant.

Chief Medical Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Ryan Westergaard said, while genome sequencing, the process to definitively determine which variant of the coronavirus is present, can take 2 to 4 weeks, the case trajectory is clear.

“It’s likely based on what we’ve seen on the small sample of specimens that we have sequenced that the Delta variant if not already is going to be attributable to most new casesthe majority of new cases are going to be attributable to the Delta variant,” said Westergaard.

Safdar said because of pockets of vulnerability, areas with a smaller population of vaccinated people, the virus is constantly mutating and adapting which means vaccines, while still the best form of protection against all variants, are not equally effective across the board.

“Even with Delta you know it’s highly effective but it’s not as effective as with the wild type so the difference between you know 80 percent plus with Delta versus the 90 percent plus with the other it turns into significant numbers of people when you translate it to the population,” she added. 

Safdar also said places with higher vaccination rates, like Dane County at 67 percent, are in a better place than those with lower rates but because we don’t live in a vacuum a mask mandate return locally is still a possibility.

“I’m not seeing that at the moment but I guess in the fall we’ll get a better sense of the circulation of the virus,”she said. “These decisions may often need to be made quickly because you know you’ve got ten cases a day and that doesn’t mean 20 the next day it means a hundred the next day because of the way the virus multiplies.”

However according to Safdar we do have one big advantage in the fight against the virus in that we aren’t starting from zero.

“There are these platforms for vaccines that can be easily modified to attack whatever variant is circulating. So in the future I would expect that that would be the case.”

This means even if there is a reinstatement of the mask mandate other Covid restrictions won’t likely equal the levels seen last year.

News 3 reached out to Public Health Madison and Dane County for information about a possible return of a mask mandate. 

They were unavailable for an interview but in a statement they once again express the importance of getting vaccinated.

“We must continue to use the best tools we have available to help prevent the spread of illness. Right now, the best possible tool we have at our disposal is vaccination,” it read. “We know that the vaccines available to us are effective in preventing the spread of infection, including the Delta variant.”