New Dane County public health order takes effect Wednesday

UPDATE (WKOW) -- Dane County will no longer require masks at outdoor gatherings, as the county continues to move forward in its COVID-19 response.

Ina news releaseFriday morning, Public Health Madison and Dane County outlineEmergency Order 15, which lifts or reduces many of the COVID-19 regulations.

This comes on the heels of the Wisconsin Supreme Courtoverturning the statewide mask mandateWednesday.

According to the release, masks will still be required for any indoor gatherings, but gathering limits remain at 150 people if food and drink are available, and 350 if not.

Additionally, self-service food stations, such as salad bars and buffets, may reopen, along with saunas and steam rooms.

There is no set capacity on outdoor gatherings but event organizers and venue operators must ensure enough space for people to stay six feet apart.

“While we're encouraged by the data we're seeing and happy to take another step forward today, we're closely watching what's happening in other states with case counts and hospitalizations ticking up," PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said at a news conference.

The order goes into effect April 7, and expires May 5.

While schools and childcare centers must still provide written policies to the health department that outline their cleaning and distancing protocols, there are fewer specifics demanded by health officials in this order compared tothe last one.

Heinrich said the decision was based on encouraging metrics throughout the county; hospitalizations are the lowest they've been since last September while the 14-day average of new cases per day is the lowest it's been since August.

Heinrich also cited the vaccination rate. 40 percent of Dane County adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 89 percent of those 65 and older.

"While we are not yet at the place of herd immunity, this is significant protection for our community," she said.

Dr. Jeff Pothof, Chief Quality Officer for UW Health, said the safe resumption of large outdoor gatherings would hinge on whether event operators successfully keep different households or 'pods' physically distant from one another.

"What you're really trying to do is separating family units, separating groups six feet apart so that if any of family groups or those bubbles are carrying COVID-19, they're not afforded the opportunity to transmit that to a different bubble," Pothof said.

Despite the overall optimism, Heinrich cautioned health officials were still closely monitoring the spread of new variant strains as well as the recent rise in cases nearby states like Michigan have experienced.

“We are all excited to get back to doing activities we love and have missed over the past year. As restrictions continue to be loosened and you consider which activities you want to pick up again, keep in mind all activities contain some risk,” Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in the release.

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