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Dane County

Madison and Dane County Board of Health dismisses request to end mask mandate

The vote came just days after Dane County’s mask mandate had been slated to expire on Nov. 27, but then was extended to Jan. 3

The Board of Health for Madison and Dane County has — again — said it won’t ask that the county’s COVID-19 mask order be repealed.

The board on Wednesday, Dec. 1, voted unanimously to indefinitely table, for the second time since September, a request that Public Health Madison and Dane County Director Janel Heinrich “pull back her emergency order until public input and consent of the governed has been achieved.”

The vote came just days after Dane County’s mask mandate had been slated to expire on Nov. 27, but then was extended to Jan. 3 amid rising local cases and concern about the new Omicron variant.

The Board of Health had voted on Sept. 1 to put the original request on file “with prejudice.” It had been submitted by County Board Supervisors Jeff Weigand of Marshall, Dave Ripp of Waunakee and Tim Rockwell of Sun Prairie.

The County Board subsequently asked the Board of Health to reconsider its September action on a technicality, due to the original motion being improperly made.

Board of Health member and Madison Ald. Lindsay Lemmer, who made the September motion, apologized for it having to return.

“I am saddened that this is back in front of us,” Lemmer said, noting regret for her part in causing “us to be back here tonight.”

A handful of opponents of the county’s mask mandate shared on Dec. 1 their general frustrations with its continuation.

Speakers called requiring children to be masked particularly egregious, said resources would be better put toward promoting fitness and healthy lifestyles and questioned the metrics Public Health Madison and Dane County is basing it decisions on.

But speakers were told by Board of Health Chair Jerry Halverson that they couldn’t comment specifically on the resolution being brought back before the board.

In a release after the meeting, Weigand said he was “saddened, frustrated and in disbelief,” at the board’s tabling of the resolution and that people who had registered to speak were told at the last minute they would not be allowed to.

Weigand called Halverson’s decision to not allow public comment specific to the resolution at hand “disgraceful.”

“I will be investigating the legality of what occurred tonight. At best we were misled and lied to,” Weigand said.

Weigand also said he will be hosting a public hearing on Dane County’s mask mandate on Dec. 13, with the location and other details “forthcoming.”

“The citizens of Dane County deserve to have their voices heard and questions answered. If the Board of Health for Madison and Dane County, the Dane County Board and the Dane County executive refuse to listen to people and answer questions, then I will,” Weigand wrote.

Rising cases

In a COVID-19 update to the Board of Health, Heinrich noted that the county is currently seeing its highest number of cases since vaccines became available early in 2021. But, she also noted, Dane County’s case rate per 100,000 residents is currently about half that of Wisconsin overall. That, she said, is due to continuing public health orders.

“Wearing a mask is simply the thing to do to protect ourselves and others as we continue to navigate through these scary times,” concurred Board of Health member Holly Hatcher, also a Dane County Board supervisor from Middleton. “I will continue to support and trust our leaders in public health.”

Board of Health member Kim Whitmore expressed her thanks to Public Health Madison and Dane County “for continuing to use data and science to drive decision making in our community.”

“I think we need to recognize that our numbers are better than other counties and that is because we continue to have these incredible measures,” in place, Whitmore continued. “I don’t think we want to take those away at the risk of more people getting sick and dying.”

Lemmer said it was “important to make it abundantly clear on this, that we are 100 percent behind Public Health and we are 100 percent in support of data and science-driven decisions,” and that the Board of Health is “absolutely behind the ability to establish emergency orders that are saving lives.”

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