‘Absolutely’ a good time for Dane Co. mask mandate to end, PHMDC spokesperson says

MADISON, Wis. — As Dane County’s COVID-19 mask mandate nears its 12:01 a.m. Tuesday expiration, a Public Health Madison & Dane County spokesperson said data shows it’s “absolutely” a good time to shift away from the requirement.

In an interview with News 3 Now hours before the mandate expired, PHMDC spokesperson Morgan Finke said case counts and hospitalizations have fallen significantly from their Omicron variant-fueled peaks. The county’s current seven-day average new daily case numbers are around 10% of their peak.

“We’ve only seen that trajectory, that downward trajectory of cases and of hospitalizations continue in the last couple of weeks since we made the announcement,” Finke added.

COVID-19 case activity in Dane County and 42 others in Wisconsin is considered very high, according to the state Department of Health Services. Twenty-nine counties have high virus activity.

Two weeks ago, PHMDC announced the mandate, which has been in place since Aug. 19 and was extended multiple times, would be allowed to expire on March 1. Despite the mandate’s end, health officials have stressed the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet.

Asked whether she had any fears about a surge or increase in cases following the announcement, Finke said she’s learned COVID-19 is unpredictable.

“As much as we were fairly confident in the fact that these numbers were consistently falling and we waited to see that that data was stable before making any decisions… certainly we’re always ready to shift and to pivot if we need to,” she said.

LIST: Dane Co. school districts outline plans in wake of mask mandate’s expiration

While a number of Dane County school districts will make mask-wearing optional as the mandate ends, the Madison Metropolitan School District is keeping its mask requirement in place for now. Finke said PHMDC has not received many questions or concerns from parents about the varying approaches to masking in schools.

Businesses will still be allowed to require masks, and some, including A Room of One’s Own Bookstore on Madison’s east side, have signaled they will do so. In addition, the Transportation Security Administration’s order requiring masks on public transit runs until March 18.

Finke said PHMDC has resources on its website for business owners, including signs businesses can use to indicate whether masks are required or recommended.

“They’re going to have to communicate those policies to their customers and enforce them,” Finke said. “It’s similar to any other policy a business owner might choose to enforce on their property.”