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New Dane County public health order takes effect Wednesday

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- Dane County will no longer require masks at outdoor gatherings, as the county continues to move forward in its COVID-19 response.

In a news release Friday morning, Public Health Madison and Dane County outline Emergency Order 15, which lifts or reduces many of the COVID-19 regulations.

This comes on the heels of the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturning the statewide mask mandate Wednesday.

According to the release, masks will still be required for any indoor gatherings, but gathering limits remain at 150 people if food and drink are available, and 350 if not.

Additionally, self-service food stations, such as salad bars and buffets, may reopen, along with saunas and steam rooms.

There is no set capacity on outdoor gatherings but event organizers and venue operators must ensure enough space for people to stay six feet apart.

“While we're encouraged by the data we're seeing and happy to take another step forward today, we're closely watching what's happening in other states with case counts and hospitalizations ticking up," PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said at a news conference.

The order goes into effect April 7, and expires May 5.

While schools and childcare centers must still provide written policies to the health department that outline their cleaning and distancing protocols, there are fewer specifics demanded by health officials in this order compared to the last one.

Heinrich said the decision was based on encouraging metrics throughout the county; hospitalizations are the lowest they've been since last September while the 14-day average of new cases per day is the lowest it's been since August.

Heinrich also cited the vaccination rate. 40 percent of Dane County adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 89 percent of those 65 and older.

"While we are not yet at the place of herd immunity, this is significant protection for our community," she said.

Dr. Jeff Pothof, Chief Quality Officer for UW Health, said the safe resumption of large outdoor gatherings would hinge on whether event operators successfully keep different households or 'pods' physically distant from one another.

"What you're really trying to do is separating family units, separating groups six feet apart so that if any of family groups or those bubbles are carrying COVID-19, they're not afforded the opportunity to transmit that to a different bubble," Pothof said.

Despite the overall optimism, Heinrich cautioned health officials were still closely monitoring the spread of new variant strains as well as the recent rise in cases nearby states like Michigan have experienced.

“We are all excited to get back to doing activities we love and have missed over the past year. As restrictions continue to be loosened and you consider which activities you want to pick up again, keep in mind all activities contain some risk,” Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in the release.

MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County public health officials will release a new public health order Friday.

Check out all of our coverage related to the coronavirus here.

A press conference is scheduled for noon on Friday to announce the new order, according to a media advisory from public health officials.

"COVID-19 is a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our community," the advisory said. "The latest order continues the phased opening of Dane County."

The advisory did not include details of what changes the new order would make.

The Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, Janel Heinrich, will join Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi in announcing the new order at the press conference.

The most recent public health order, Emergency Order #14A, went into effect last month.

It increased gathering limits, updated the school protective measure policy requirements, allowed restaurants to open to 50% capacity and enabled taverns to open to 25% capacity, with certain safety requirements.

WKOW will carry the press conference live on our Facebook page.

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JT Cestkowski

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A. J. Bayatpour

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