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Order further loosens restrictions due to improving conditions countywide

In recognition of how the COVID-19 landscape has changed since the beginning of the pandemic, Public Health Madison & Dane County has released an updated tool for assessing our progress through the pandemic, called Forward Dane: Updating Metrics in Light of Vaccination Progress.

This tool includes a new set of measures that emphasize vaccine dissemination and epidemiology. The measures in this new tool no longer have specific thresholds and have been replaced with a more flexible data framework that allows Public Health to adapt measures to the pandemic more rapidly. These new measures will be used as a guide as future decisions are made about public health orders.

“Back in May 2020 there were some tools to inform decision-making about tightening restrictions, but no tools or frameworks for what a national, state, or county-wide reopening process during a pandemic could look like,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “In the time since then, we have learned a great deal about how COVID-19 is spread and ways to better protect ourselves and our communities. The updated Forward Dane recognizes all we have learned in the past year.”

As the pandemic has progressed, a community’s learned experiences became just as important to decision-making as existing metrics and data. Fewer communities across the country continued to link reopening stages to predetermined metric thresholds.

“We set out at the start of this pandemic with clear goals – trying to minimize illness and death in our community and reduce the toll this pandemic took on families and health care workers that we saw in too many places across this country,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “These new orders reflect the hope we should all feel as more people get vaccinated and we move closer with each passing day to the final chapters of this pandemic.”

Data that will be assessed within this tool include measures such as percent of Dane County population that is at least partially vaccinated, percent of key populations with disproportionately poor COVID outcomes fully vaccinated, variant strains as predominant version of virus in community, case count with 2-week trend, and time from specimen collection to public health contact tracing interview.

These measures will be monitored weekly and progress will continue to be reported to the community via the weekly Data Snapshot and Data Notes blog post.

In conjunction with these new measures, Public Health Madison & Dane County has issued Emergency Order #14. The order goes into effect March 10, at 12:01am and will be in effect for 28 days.

“We are encouraged with how case counts and hospitalizations have continued to fall and vaccinations have increased especially for our most vulnerable.  Today we are taking another step in our phased reopening as a result of those data,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “To maintain our progress and continue on this path, we want to remind everyone to stay vigilant by masking up and avoiding close contact with others whenever possible.”

A summary of provisions that changed between Order #13 and Order #14 include:

  • Gathering limits indoors and outdoors increased.
    • A Gathering inside where food or drink is offered or provided is limited to 150 individuals. A Gathering inside where food or drink is not offered or provided is limited to 350 individuals. Individuals must maintain six feet physical distancing and face coverings are required.
    • A Gathering outside is limited to 500 individuals. Individuals must maintain six feet physical distancing. Face coverings required at gatherings of more than 50 individuals.
  • The school protective measure policy requirements were updated and includes items about employee face coverings and distancing, distancing for students, and student groupings.
  • Restaurants may open up to 50% their capacity.
  • Taverns must limit indoor dine-in capacity to 25% of approved seating capacity levels. Space tables and chairs to ensure at least six (6) feet physical distancing between customers who are not members of the same household or living unit.

"The updated Forward Dane and new order continue to demonstrate the leadership that the health department has shown throughout this pandemic as they adapt to changing conditions while putting the health and safety of our community first," said Jerry Halverson, MD, Chair of the Board of Health.

When Order #13 was issued on February 8, the seven-day case average was 107, and 63 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Yesterday, the seven-day case average was 60 and there are 34 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Eighteen percent of the Dane County population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

All actions and activities have risk during this pandemic, and new cases, while down, still indicate some risk. Limiting opportunities for people to be in crowded, confined spaces is an important public health strategy, especially until more of the population is vaccinated.

“It’s important for everyone to remember that while we are continuing our phased reopening of Dane County and loosening some restrictions, all activities contain some risk,” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, City of Madison Mayor. “Public health orders are designed to work on a population level to protect vulnerable people, preserve hospital capacity, suppress illness, and prevent deaths. As an individual or a family, you may need to make stricter choices based on your comfort with risks.”

It is safest to:

  • Limit your contact with people you don’t live with.
  • Wear a mask when you are with people you don’t live with.
  • Maintain six feet of distance from people you don’t live with.
  • Limit the activities you engage in on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Spend time outdoors, where the virus can more easily disperse in open air.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as you are able.

These provisions are unchanged between Order #13 and Order #14:

  • Face coverings are required in enclosed buildings, while driving with people who are not part of your household, and outdoors at a restaurant or tavern. The types of face coverings allowed was updated to reflect new CDC recommendations.
  • Businesses continue to be limited to 50% of approved building capacity and must have written cleaning and hygiene policies in place.
  • Provisions for continuing education and higher education institutions, industry-specific requirements, health care, public health, human service, infrastructure, manufacturing, government, and religious entities and groups remain unchanged. 

See the full order for all details.