‘Not a time for panic’: Dane County health chief hints at mask recommendations, urges calm | Local News

Madison and Dane County officials said they might bring back mask recommendations should COVID-19 metrics hit thresholds set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But they stressed that the public is far better prepared to weather any future spikes in the disease.

Public Health Madison and Dane County would urge, but not mandate, people to wear masks indoors even if they’re vaccinated should the county reach high levels of transmission, something that’s already happened in 18 Wisconsin counties as of Thursday evening.

Public Health director Janel Heinrich said during a media briefing Friday afternoon that while the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has tripled in the last month, the rising metrics do not merit “a time for panic.”

“Cases alone are no longer our primary cause for concern,” Heinrich said.

Vaccination, previous infection and new antiviral drugs have kept hospitalizations far lower than what the county saw in previous surges, Heinrich said.

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An average of 337 people have tested positive for the virus every day in Dane County over the last week, up from 61 on March 19, according to Public Health data. Forty-seven people in Dane County were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, compared to 24 people two weeks ago.

The 18 Wisconsin counties that have reached high levels of transmission under CDC guidance are: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Douglas, Kenosha, La Crosse, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Milwaukee, Monroe, Ozaukee, Racine, Rusk, Sawyer, Washington, Waukesha and Wood.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who announced he had tested positive for the virus on Friday, said his infection proves the virus is still spreading. Parisi said he’s experiencing mild symptoms.

“While we had hoped that COVID would largely be behind us now, our new reality is likely to involve adjusting our behavior as virus levels fluctuate,” Parisi said during Friday’s online briefing. “Not fun — but a fact of life at least for now.”

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the best way to stave off future surges of the virus is staying up to date on vaccinations.

“The difference between when this pandemic started and what we’re experiencing now is that we know the best tools to keep ourselves safe,” Rhodes-Conway said.

The mayor also lauded the CDC recommendation to offer booster shots to children ages 5-11, which was commended by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Friday afternoon.

“To parents and guardians awaiting this news: once CDC releases updated clinical guidance, we will review the recommendation as quickly as possible and update our vaccination guidance accordingly,” the Department of Health Services said in a statement.

Heinrich noted that 60% of 5- to 11-year-olds in Dane County have received a first dose of the vaccine series.

“I’m always concerned that we may see more virus in our littles,” Heinrich said.

“I ask our parents and people who care for children to do everything possible to keep our kiddos healthy, safe and well,” she said.