Dane County mask order to expire March 1, but ‘doesn’t mean the pandemic is over,’ officials say

MADISON, Wis. — Next month, masks and face coverings will not be required in Dane County for the first time since August 19, 2021 after Public Health Madison & Dane County officials announced Monday that they will let the current mask mandate expire on March 1.

“Letting the face covering order expire doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over,” PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said in a statement announcing the decision. “Rather, it signals that we have made it through the Omicron surge and are entering a new stage of the pandemic.”

PHMDC had extended the mandate last month after COVID-19 cases surged due to the omicron variant. Dane County saw a case spike in early January, at one point topping 2,000 new cases in one day.

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“I want to thank everyone in the community for your commitment to keeping yourselves and your neighbors safe throughout the pandemic,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a statement. “It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure; but your diligence, combined with the amazing work of Public Health and our many community partners, is the reason we have come through the pandemic with one of the lowest per-capita death rates in the nation. Thank you.”

Last week, PHMDC spokesperson Morgan Finke said a decision on the mandate would be made closer to the March 1 deadline. However, cases in the county continue to fall, with the seven-day case average dropping below the peak seen in November 2020.

“The most important thing you can do now is to stay up-to-date on our vaccines as they have proven to be highly effective in protecting you from becoming severely ill, ending up in the hospital, or dying from COVID-19,” Heinrich said.

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The most recent data from PHMDC shows that cases in the county have dropped about 37% over the past two weeks. Almost 80% of Dane County residents have completed an initial vaccine series.

Even with the county-wide order expiring in March, private businesses may still decide to require masks for all customers. Federal transportation mandates — including those that apply to Metro buses in Madison — will also still be in effect.