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Mask requirement ending in some Wisconsin state government buildings

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With COVID-19 infections abating, state officials announced Friday that employees and visitors would no longer be required to wear face coverings inside some state buildings beginning Tuesday, and that the weekly COVID-19 testing program for unvaccinated executive branch employees will end March 13.

Workers in the departments of Corrections, Health Services and Veteran’s Affairs, and those working in congregate facilities, such as prisons, will be required to wear masks until at least April 1, according to updated guidance issued Friday by the state Division of Personnel Management. Quarantine rules for those who test positive for COVID-19 are not changing.

While the Department of Corrections will continue requiring masks until at least April, the department announced Friday the recent drop in COVID-19 cases prompted it to resume in-person visitation for inmates.

Dane County on Feb. 14 announced that its indoor mask mandate would be allowed to expire at the end of this month, while the Madison School District on Wednesday said its requirement would remain until at least the end of spring break, or April 1, but that beginning Tuesday, students and staff could go unmasked outdoors on school property. The majority of other school districts in Dane County will loosen or drop their requirements entirely as of Tuesday.

UW-Madison announced on Feb. 16 that it will lift its mask mandate when spring break starts March 12.

The seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests in Dane County has dropped from as high as 22% in early January to less than 5% as of Thursday, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County. Hospitalizations due to the virus are also down 19% over the last two weeks, while nearly 80% of residents have been vaccinated and more than 69% of those older than 12 have had their boosters.

In guidance updated Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaves the decision on whether to wear a mask in Dane County up to “your personal preference, informed by your personal level of risk.” Under a new three-tier risk-rating system, which the agency calls Covid-19 Community Levels, Dane is considered low risk, the least dangerous. The system is based on hospital bed use and admissions and number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.

It’s a significant shift from the CDC’s previous mask guidance, issued Jan. 21. Under that guidance and its method for calculating risk, Dane County was deemed to be at a high level of risk as late as early Friday afternoon, and masks indoors were recommended.

In announcing the partial end of the state buildings mask mandate, the Division of Personnel Management noted that positive COVID-19 tests and test rates are at levels not seen since last summer, and that more than “77% of Wisconsin state employees have completed their COVID-19 vaccination series.”

State quarantine rules will continue to require that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 stay home for five days. They can return to work after that if they are symptom-free but must wear masks around others for an additional five days.

The seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests in Dane County has dropped from as high as 22% in early January to less than 5% as of Thursday.

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