For the first time in months, Dane County public health officials are saying some people who don’t live together can take off their masks and get up close and personal.
As part of an amendment to its latest COVID-19-related emergency order, Public Health Madison and Dane County said Thursday that while indoors, fully vaccinated people don’t need to mask up or remain 6 feet away from other fully vaccinated people, or from unvaccinated people who are from another household but not at high risk for getting seriously ill from the virus.
Depending on the extent people have been following the old rules, the new ones vastly expand the opportunities for, say, grandparents to visit their grandchildren.
The new local guidance reflects new national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 8. People are considered fully vaccinated when it has been at least two weeks since they have received the second dose in the two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or at least two weeks since they have received the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
Dane County’s mask mandate took effect July 13 and was the first in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers followed with a statewide order on Aug. 1. It was struck down by the state Legislature in early February but immediately reinstated by the governor under a new statewide order that expires on April 5.
The state order continues to require masks indoors among people who aren’t members of the same household and supersedes less restrictive local orders. But Public Health spokesperson Christy Vogt said that “overall,” the Dane County order remains more restrictive than the state order, “so we don’t believe we are in conflict.”
Health officials estimate 60-90% of the population must be immune to prevent the virus from spreading, a level referred to as “herd immunity.” Nearly 27% of the county’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and nearly 16% are fully vaccinated, but nearly 85% of the most vulnerable, those over 65, are partially vaccinated. The seven-day average of new cases as of Wednesday was just more than 44.
Julie Willems Van Dijk, services secretary at the state Department of Health Services, said Thursday there will be enough of the vaccine in Wisconsin by the end of June for 80% of residents 16 and up to be immunized, achieving herd immunity. More than 23% of Wisconsin residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine and over 13% were fully vaccinated as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, plans for a federal COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison remain unclear as Evers on Thursday announced a second such site will start April 8 at UW-Eau Claire.
The state’s first such clinic started this week at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the operations using part of the state’s allocation of vaccine.
Dane County, the state and FEMA “remain in active conversations about planning for the potential of a mass vaccination site” at Alliant, Josh Wescott, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, said in a statement Thursday. “These conversations continue to progress and the parties are due to meet later this week to further the work that is well underway.”
State-run vaccination clinics have opened in Janesville and La Crosse, with another opening next week in Racine. Health care organizations and UW campuses have started others, including one at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
People with chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 become eligible for shots Monday, with the general public eligible by May 1.
“Week by week, we’ve seen increased doses, and we anticipate a pretty significant jump around the first of April,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, said Thursday. “It won’t be that long before, in your community, there will be more and more vaccine and more and more availability.”
The state has a list and map of vaccinators available online at go.madison.com/vaccinators and a registry for appointments and a waiting list at vaccinate.wi.gov.. A hotline for questions about vaccines and assistance with registration is at 844-684-1064.
Capacity limits the same
Public Health Madison and Dane County said no other changes are being made to the local order, which took effect March 10 and allowed restaurants to serve twice as many customers as they had been — up to 50% of their capacity — and taverns to open up to 25% capacity. Previously, taverns had been restricted to takeout service.
Gathering limits were also expanded under the March 10 order — up to 350 people indoors and up to 500 people outdoors, though cloth face coverings are still required.
Allowed capacity in businesses remains at 50%.
Public Health also released new metrics earlier this month to guide future loosening of restrictions as more people become vaccinated and the number of new cases drops.
The new “Forward Dane” plan does away with the specific disease metrics established last May in favor of more flexible guidelines that emphasize vaccine distribution and immunity rates. The previous reopening guidelines relied on metrics such as the number of new cases, tests given and percentage of positive tests to guide the level of restrictions.
State Journal reporter David Wahlberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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