Masks to be optional in Madison schools to start the year

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Metropolitan School District says masks will be optional to start the new school year as it announced its COVID-19 safety plan Tuesday.

In a statement Tuesday, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said that the district will not require masks at the beginning of the new school year, but it will still “highly recommend” wearing masks indoors and on buses. Students will also not be required to sit six feet apart in accordance with the latest CDC guidelines, but the district will also encourage distancing when possible and to avoid overcrowding when case counts in the community are high.

In considering what may be included in MMSD’s safety plan, local health officials said the strides made with this pandemic are reason to expect reduced mitigation measures.

“We’re in a completely different place than we were a few years ago, even a year ago,” said Dr. David Ottenbaker, the vice president of primary care services at SSM Health. “With the combined efforts of the vaccines and the illness, we’re seeing less severe illness, we’ve got better treatment, we also now hopefully have a new perspective on variants as far as the vaccines go.”

The district required students to wear masks indoors through the end of the 2021-2022 school year, but dropped the mandate ahead of the summer. In June, LeMonds said that a mask requirement could return if conditions warranted it or if local health officials recommended masking.

RELATED: Dane County COVID-19 community level returns to high

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved Dane County’s COVID-19 community level back to ‘high’ on Monday, just over a week after it had dropped to medium. When the level is ‘high,’ indoor masking is recommended.