Public health officials, Madison mayor disappointed by State Supreme Court’s decision to suspend health order requiring virtual instruction

Public Health Close Up

MADISON, Wis. — Local officials said Friday that they are disappointed by the State Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily suspend Dane County’s health order that requires all instruction for grades 3-12 to be taught virtually.

Three separate lawsuits from families and religious schools were filed against Emergency Order #9. The court enjoined the order Thursday as it considers school closures, which grants the petitioners emergency temporary injunctive relief on restrictions to in-person learning.

Under the court’s order, county schools can open for in-person classes as soon as Friday.

“The purpose of these orders has been and continues to be to protect the health and safety of our communities,” Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County Janel Heinrich said. “We don’t have a vaccine. We don’t have an effective treatment. In the absence of other options, and a dramatic increase in recent cases, limiting gatherings and person-to-person interactions continues to be the essential part of controlling the spread of COVID-19.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement saying the Supreme Court’s order undermines PHMDC’s work and the legislative statues it’s founded on.

“In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services did not have the authority to respond immediately to this virus, and unfortunately, yesterday they indicated that local health officers do not have the ability to close schools,” Rhodes-Conway said. “This sends the message that neither the state nor localities should be taking common sense measures to protect the public from a deadly disease. That is very concerning, especially when today we hit our highest positivity rate since we began our fight against COVID.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s injunction on the order, public health officials are urging schools to voluntarily phase-in classes based on public health recommendations.

Friday morning, health officials announced that their metrics for resuming in-person instruction for grades 3-12 have still not been met.

A recent uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases has largely been driven by students and staff affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.