Dane Co. mask advisory possible if COVID levels reach ‘High’, but no mandate

MADISON, Wis. — Providing an update on the status of COVID-19 in Dane County Friday, public health officials said it is unlikely they reinstitute a mask mandate because the tools to fight the pandemic have changed with the availability of vaccines and boosters.

Public Health Madison & Dane County director Janel Heinrich said while the CDC still considers Dane County to be in the “Medium” level of COVID-19 spread, the county is on the “higher end” of that level.

With Milwaukee County recently hitting the “High” threshold, officials there instituted a Mask Advisory — meaning masks are highly recommended for everyone in public indoor settings or crowded outdoor spaces, but not required. Heinrich says if Dane County reaches that level, they would likely issue something similar but was clear it would not be a requirement or mandate like they issued at other points in the pandemic.

“We would communicate robustly, loudly and widely about the value of wearing masks, and the difference between where we are now and why we would maybe put out an advisory versus an order,” Heinrich said. “We are in a very very different place than we were (when masks were required). We have tools available to us to prevent more illness that we did not have at the beginning of the pandemic, and we are not in quite the same place as we were with our surges as we were earlier.”

The county’s mask mandate expired on March 1, and officials have consistently said since then they have no plans to reinstate the requirement, even during stretches when cases have ticked up.

RELATED: No plans to reinstate mask mandate at this time, local health officials say

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day, said his case shows the virus is still something people should be thinking about.

“We were trying to find a way to bring rising COVID rates to peoples’ attention, and COVID found me,” Parisi said. “I can vouch for the fact that COVID is back. For myself, fortunately, so far for the last couple days I’ve just had mild symptoms, I’m vaxxed and boosted so hopefully that will remain the same.”

While Dane County is seeing hundreds of new COVID cases per day right now, officials say overall case counts are not something they are as concerned with anymore, as most people now have some level of protection against the virus, whether it’s by vaccination or previous exposure to prior variants. Hospitalization rates are up in Dane County, according to PHMDC’s latest numbers, but are not at a level of concern.

According to PHMDC’s Dane County COVID-19 dashboard, a total of 63.8 percent of Dane County residents age 5 and up are considered up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines, and 79.8 percent have completed their initial vaccine series.