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Dane County extending mask mandate until February

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Black Friday

Shoppers at Hilldale wear masks while shopping on Black Friday. Dane County plans to extend its mask mandate until February. 

Dane County's public health department is extending the countywide mask mandate until February due to the continued spread of COVID-19 and the omicron variant, the department announced Monday. 

"As the state warns us of an omicron surge that will overwhelm an already strained healthcare system, we must continue to equip ourselves in every way possible to slow the spread," Public Health Director Janel Heinrich said in a statement. 

The order requires masks for everyone ages two and older in most enclosed spaces open to the public whenever other people are present, Public Health Madison & Dane County said. It includes an exception for when all people within an enclosed space are fully vaccinated, as well as for when people are eating or drinking, sleeping, swimming, getting dental treatment or communicating with someone who is deaf. 

Last month, Dane County extended its masking mandate until Jan. 3. Immediately after that order expires, it will be extended until Feb. 1, according to a Public Health order issued Monday

"There continues to be evidence that masks help prevent disease transmission,” said Dr. Jerry Halverson, chair of the Board of Health. "With delta and omicron circulating, and our hospitals near capacity, it is important for all of us in the community to continue to take this easy action."

Omicron, the newest COVID-19 "variant of concern," is believed to be more contagious than previous strains, including delta, and appears to require more vaccination for protection. Some early data indicate omicron may cause less severe disease in individuals, but its rapid spread could still increase hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated, health officials say.

Wisconsin health officials on Monday said omicron could overwhelm already strained facilities

Dr. William Melms, chief medical officer of the Marshfield Clinic Health System, said omicron could "push us beyond the breaking point." 

Public Health said Wisconsin and Dane County are already in the midst of a "surge in people testing positive for COVID." Dane County case averages and hospitalizations this month are the highest so far this year, according to Public Health. The county is seeing an average of 255 people testing positive each day. 

So far this month, six people have died from COVID-19 in Dane County, according to Public Health. In November, 11 people died. Last year, 92 county residents died of COVID-19 in December, and 71 people died in November. 

Public Health is encouraging residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. For those who are already vaccinated, public health said they should get boosted as soon as possible. 

Adults can get a Pfizer or Moderna booster if they received their second dose at least six months ago, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster two months after getting vaccinated. Teenagers age 16 and 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer booster. 

State Health reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report. 

Fave 5: Reporter David Wahlberg picks his top stories of 2021

COVID-19 dominated my year again as the State Journal’s health reporter, except for June and July, when it seemed we might overcome it. Vaccinations and variants were new angles this year. I also covered continuing deaths from the pandemic and challenges for health care workers.

During the summer dip in coronavirus activity, I wrote about a little-known hereditary disorder tied to several cancers, for which Fitchburg-based Promega Corp. has developed related testing.

This fall, I spent much of my time working on a three-day series about newborn screening, focusing on how the testing varies among states. If you were born since the mid-1960s or had a child since then, you’ve almost certainly taken part in this screening, which looks for rare diseases for which prompt treatment can prevent death or disability.

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