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Wisconsin Spotlight  | Aug. 5, 2020

MADISON — Dane County’s COVID-19 Coordination assembly discussed “more restrictive” mask orders this week at its members only meeting. 

As Wisconsin Spotlight first reported, the ad-hoc committee — made up of representatives from local units of government, emergency response partners, public and private schools and others — meets weekly for “Information sharing, updates, and responding to questions.” The meetings are not open to the public, and the conference call isn’t publicly noticed. 

But the members, particularly the folks at Public Health Madison & Dane County, are the same people making the COVID-19 rules that have shut down businesses, drastically reduced capacity at stores, restaurants and churches, and have issued one of the first countywide mask orders in the state. 

At this week’s telephonic confab, questions came up about Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, which now requires those 5 and up to wear a face covering in spaces open to the public. 

“Now that the state has a mask mandate in place, which order has precedence in Dane County?” a member of the group asked, according to meeting notes obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight.  

John Hausbeck, Public Health Madison & Dane County public health supervisor, noted the state edict allows more restrictive local orders and, wouldn’t you know it, Dane County’s is even more overreaching than Evers’.

“There are a few places where the Dane County order is more strict,” Hausbeck said, according to the meeting notes. “We require masks indoors at your home if the people are not part of your household. We don’t have exceptions for individuals to remove their masks (which the state has allowances for).” 

Evers’ order permits the removal of a face covering in 14 difference exceptions and exemptions, including while eating, sleeping, and swimming.

After last week’s meeting, officials clarified information on the phases. Dave Janda, assistant director of Dane County Emergency Management and host of the Monday call, told members that county health officials will still use a “phased approach for re-opening, but it looks different than when we started due to the spike” in COVID-19 cases. 

Last week, officials talked about removing the “phases” that determined restrictions and “referencing moving forward or backward.” They said they needed a “nuanced approach” in responding to COVID-19 numbers, but standards that aren’t “overly burdening to the community.”  

“Have had to make adjustments,” Hausbeck said, according to the meeting notes. “The Forward Dane Plan does not have the previous chart as they are working on what the various phases will look like. Hoping to share in the future, but we are not at a point to allow us to move forward or consider moving forward.” 

“We are improving, but not where we need to be.” 

The county’s COVID-19 positivity rate is improving in part because health officials are finally adding in critical data. As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, Dane County failed to report 17,000 negative results. During that time, coronavirus rates spiked, but the backlog skewed positivity rates in Dane County for at least three weeks.

Dane County’s COVID-19 response team illuminati also discussed masks and voting in next week’s primary elections.  All eligible voters must be allowed to vote whether they have a mask or not, officials told the group, 

“People who are not exempt from the order should wear a mask, but poll workers will not enforce the public health order on masks,” the meeting notes state. 

Enforcement will be left to Madison and Dane County Public Health. 

Read the full notes from the COVID-19 Coordination group here.

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