Public Health Madison and Dane County will no longer require masks in public indoor spaces as of March 1, as both cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to decrease.
The county announced the decision in a news release on Monday, Feb. 14, stating that current case levels are less than 25% of the peak driven by the Omicron variant in mid-January, and hospitalizations being close to half of what they were last month. Instead of the mask mandate, the county is encouraging all residents who are eligible for vaccinations to be up to date on the recommended two-dose COVID-19 vaccine and the booster six months later.
“Letting the face covering order expire doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. Rather, it signals that we have made it through the Omicron surge and are entering a new stage of the pandemic,” PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said. “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.”
The county saw its highest case average on Jan. 12, when 1,491 were recorded to have tested positive for COVID-19, and hospitalizations peaked three days later, the news release stated. The higher rate of disease spread did not translate into higher rates of hospitalization, the release added, as hospitalizations were similar to that of last winter before vaccines were available, despite overall cases being around three times higher this winter.
In the release, county executive Joe Parisi thanked residents for being committed to making decisions that kept themselves and their neighbors safe.
“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,” Parisi said.
PHMDC had announced its intention to let the mask mandate expire in late November, but changed course after the Omicron variant began to drive up case counts in the county, along with across the state and country. The county had put the mask mandate back in place in August, after the Delta variant caused an uptick in cases after a summer of relatively few cases per 100,000 in population.