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Capital City Sunday: Face mask requirements, economic outlook and K-12 reopening plans

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As coronavirus cases continue to surge across the state, so are restrictions.

Local health departments are issuing new orders after officials say they’ve traced a majority of new cases to bars and family gatherings. 

Last week, Dane County issued more restrictions that limit gatherings and prohibit indoor dining and service at bars. 

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says if the current order doesn’t start to reduce the spread of the virus he’s considering having local health officials issue an order to require face masks in public buildings.

“I personally believe this is a direction we need to move towards,” said Parisi. “Faces masks are proven effective and the more people we can get to wear them the better.”

Before issuing a mandate, Parisi said he wants to go over logistics first with health officials including access to masks and enforcement protocols.

The legality over these requirements are being tested after a Racine County Circuit Judge ruled their county’s ordinance was unconstitutional and unlawful to issue restrictions on bars and restaurants during a health crisis.

“We’re comfortable that this will stand up in court, and I hope it doesn’t get thrown out,” said Parisi. “We’ve seen when these orders are thrown out they lead to spikes and surges.”

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

Projections show it could take more than two years for the state to recover from pre-COVID-19 levels of employment according to a new report issued by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Secretary of DOR Peter Barca said June’s economic forecast indicates a recovery is on its way, but with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, he said it could threaten a rebound.

“This is a health related economic picture as we get negative reports that will have an adverse impact on our economy,” he said. 

Barca also noted wearing a face mask during the pandemic can save not only lives, but the economy, after Goldman Sachs released a statement saying mandatory masks could prevent a 5% hit to GDP. 

The former state representative from Kenosha also called on the legislature to convene within the next few weeks to vote on what he called cost-saving initiatives. 

“We have a taxpayer enhancement package that’s pending after it passed in the Assembly that would give some much needed tax relief to small businesses and individuals because it would federalize some of the tax changes,” said Barca.

SCHOOL REOPENING PLANS

Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases, state education officials believe it is safe for students and faculty to return to school this fall.

Jennifer Kammerud, senior policy advisor for the Department of Public Instruction,  said as of Sunday the department believes it’s safe to reopen but acknowledge things could be different come August.

“For some schools it will look almost similar as it has in the past but for others, it will be a rotation of students and other safety measures,” said Kammerud.

Last month, DPI issued reopening guidelines to help districts prepare for the fall. 

Included in those recommendations is what to do when someone becomes infected at school.

“We recommend quarantining and contact tracing in consultation with the school district and the local health department and I think we also need districts to think about what happens if we find out someone tests positive and what happens if they are sick at school.”

DPI officials said the guidance is not a mandate, but it will evolve. Already DPI removed a recommendation to keep class sizes to 10 students or less after lawmakers expressed concerns because COVID-19 cases are not as prevalent in rural areas. 

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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