Face masks will continue to be required inside Cambridge and Deerfield school buildings, in response to Dane County’s extension this week of its COVID-19 mask mandate through Jan. 3.
Public Health Madison & Dane County had in recent weeks expressed hope that it could allow its COVID-19 rules to sunset on Nov. 27, but backtracked on that on Tuesday, Nov. 23 after cases again began rising locally in November.
In messages to families on Tuesday, administrators in both the Cambridge and Deerfield school districts laid out their rules for the rest of the calendar year and looked ahead to January.
Deerfield Superintendent Michelle Jensen said a Nov. 22 message to families, that had shared new after school and extracurricular activity protocols, in anticipation of the county’s order expiring, was now “null and void.”
“We will continue to follow the mask protocols that are in place at this time which is required masking for all students, staff and visitors while inside school district facilities,” Jensen wrote. “The complexities of COVID and the latest surge heading into the holidays are of great concern which I am confident PHMDC took into consideration when deciding to extend the mask mandate.”
“There are many ebbs and flows with this virus, and our best work for kids is when we are all working together with the common goal of in-person instruction five days a week with as few learning disruptions as possible. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding,” Jensen continued.
“In an effort to thoughtfully respond to the expiring Dane County mask mandate,” the Cambridge School District said it would relax some of it face covering rules effective Nov. 27, Superintendent Marggie Banker wrote in a message to families on Nov. 23.
Masks would have become optional for athletics, vocal and instrumental musicians and spectators and visitors in building during non-school hours. They would have continued to be required during the school day.
Within hours, however, the school district reversed course as word came that the county mask mandate would be extended.
“We regularly consult with local health officials and were not aware of this afternoon’s extension of the Dane County Mask Mandate #5 which was simultaneously announced with our communication regarding easing some COVID related restrictions in the district,” Banker wrote. “If you had an opportunity to review my previous communication, you noticed we are looking for ways to loosen restrictions when the conditions are favorable. Due to the newest Dane County order we will maintain the status quo of masks required at all times indoors at Cambridge schools due to high levels of Dane County community disease transmission.”
“We continue to evaluate factors such as community infection rates, vaccination rates, and staffing capabilities as we consider flexibility with our protocols. I apologize for any confusion or frustration caused by the competing messages,” Banker continued.
“We appreciate the ongoing toll and impacts of COVID on our school community. We have very much benefited from the continuity of in-person learning all fall, including athletics, music/theater performances, local field trips and out-of-state trips for students,” Banker had written in the initial message sent to families. “We are so grateful to our educators and staff who creatively figure out how to safely hold cherished traditions such as homecoming, parent/teacher conferences and holiday celebrations. In this season of gratitude, we are truly thankful for the positive support of our families who continue to thrive despite challenging and less than ideal conditions.”
Dane County order
Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Face Covering Emergency Order #5 on Nov. 23. It’s effective Saturday, Nov. 27, the date a previous order is set to expire.
The new order requires people ages two and older to wear a face mask in most enclosed public spaces where other people are present. It will expire on Jan. 3, 2022.
One rule has relaxed; the new order now allows people to remove their masks if all individuals in an enclosed space are fully vaccinated.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after their first dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich said there had been hope that COVID-19 orders could completely sunset in the county on Nov. 27, but said that can’t happen with cases rising.
“In the last three weeks, our rate of disease in the community has nearly doubled, the rate among children is at an all-time high and in other parts of the state, cases are even higher,” Heinrich said in a release. “With the holiday travel season upon us, this order provides more time for those who are newly eligible to get their first and second doses and for more adults to get booster doses.”
Dane County has had consistently fewer COVID-19 cases than almost all other Wisconsin counties due to high vaccination rates and masking policies, but is still classified as high transmission as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. On Nov.19, the 7-day average of people testing positive in Dane County was 163 (29.8 per 100,000). In Wisconsin, that number was 3,068 (52.5 per 100,000).
“The landscape of COVID continues to evolve, and we are at a point in this pandemic where it’s likely that COVID will keep spreading in our communities for years, like the flu does. Cases may go up and down, but will never completely go away,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. “Vaccines are the best tool we have to prevent COVID illness and severe outcomes, but masks, physical distancing, and other tools provide an added layer of protection.”
All adults who received Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are now eligible to receive booster dose at least 6 months after they received their second dose. People who got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are also eligible for a booster dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
On Nov. 22, 28% of all Dane County adults who received their initial series had received their booster.
“The best path forward throughout this pandemic has always been and continues to be vaccination, with boosters now approved for all adults increasing the existing immunity,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “Because we know how effective the vaccine is at preventing severe illness and death, this order takes that into account, by providing an exception for vaccinated individuals.”
“Keeping a mask order as an added layer of protection is a smart decision for our county,” said Jerry Halverson, MD, Chair of the Dane County Board of Health. “Families may soon venture outside of Dane County for the holidays and will likely encounter areas with lower vaccination rates, so keeping masks on for a little bit longer provides a circle of protection for those who are still in the process of becoming fully vaccinated.”
For more information about the COVID-19 in Dane County visit publichealthmdc.com/coronavirus. You can also follow @publichealthmdc on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.