On Jun. 2, Dane County will have no public health orders in place for the first time since May 13, 2020. Masks will no longer be required and there will be no limits on gathering.
Even at the release of the last order, which went into effect on May 5 and expires on Jun. 2, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) called the number of COVID-19 cases in the county an indication of “a period of sustained stability.”
In combination with having a more complete understanding of how COVID spreads and how to interpret the factors surrounding metrics, widespread vaccination is a key component to PHMDC’s decision. PHMDC began speaking of this months ago, with a Forward Dane metrics update released on Mar. 2, stating, “Since we have started vaccinating people, we have entered a new era of hope and possibility.”
The March metrics update also predicted that by the summer, restrictions would either be greatly reduced or nonexistent.
Although an end to public health orders has been foreshadowed for some time, students at Middleton High School (MHS) have had varied reactions to PHMDC’s decision to not put out any more restrictions on masking or gathering. A few students thought that it seemed “out of the blue” to remove a mask mandate. For some, the end to restrictions is severely disconcerting. Others are less distressed.
Sophomore Luca Farmer does not agree with the end to masking restrictions, in large part due to the fact that many people have not been fully vaccinated yet. Farmer is especially concerned about those who are not able to get vaccinated.
“It is still known that vaccinated people can get COVID and can spread it to others,” he said. “The goal of the vaccine is to eliminate serious cases and prevent death, and all COVID vaccines are 100 percent effective when it comes to that.”
However, Farmer continued, individuals who cannot be vaccinated do not receive this protection, and “to protect these people at risk, those who are vaccinated should still wear masks in public areas.”
Other students were less impassioned. Some expressed mild concern over people being truthful about whether or not they have been vaccinated, saying that they expect many people who are not vaccinated to not wear masks anyway.
Along the same thread, a student who wishes to remain anonymous said, “Wearing a mask isn’t a big deal, but there will still be push back from people.”
With certain exceptions, the latest Dane County order required face coverings in enclosed buildings with people from different households, in lines to enter any enclosed building, and in vehicles with people from different households. PHMDC also strongly recommended masking in all other situations, even outside, when maintaining six feet of physical distance was not possible. Even now that the mask mandate is ending, PHMDC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to mask in public spaces.
MHS sophomore Sarah Ann Huber agrees with the end to the mask mandate as long as science supports that it is safe. She said the politicization of masking throughout the pandemic has caused some people to pay less attention to the science.
“Some people, mostly on the right, were really opposed to wearing masks, but it seemed like sometimes people on the other side of the political spectrum were reacting to the politics rather than following guidance from the CDC. Both sides aren’t listening to the science,” Huber said. “If the CDC says it’s okay for people who are vaccinated to not wear masks, then we should trust the CDC. They are the experts. They know what they’re doing.”
Vaccination in Dane County has coincided with reduced COVID cases. According to the PHMDC COVID-19 dashboard, as of May 26, the 7-day average for cases of COVID-19 among 12-to-17-year-olds in Dane County was 1.71 cases per day. In comparison, a month prior, the 7-day average for the same age group was 6.86 cases per day.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in everyone ages 12 and up on May 13, and eligible teenagers have been getting vaccinated: The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that almost 45 percent of Dane County Residents 12 to 15 years old have received at least one dose of the vaccine. About 65 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds, who were eligible on Apr. 5, have received at least one dose, and about 55 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds have received at least one dose.
In the PHMDC data snapshot from May 3–16, the department explained, “The 7-day average of daily new cases [for 16 and 17-year-olds] was 6 when vaccinations started in mid-December; that number is now just 1 case per day.”
But at MHS, some students are still waiting on a vaccine. One sophomore explained that her mother had made an appointment for her to get a vaccine, but that it had been canceled. She remains unvaccinated. Still, many students from all grades have expressed excitement after receiving their first and even second doses.
Despite dwindling cases and increased vaccination rates, it is clear that many MHS students will still be a bit wary to shed their masks come Jun. 2. Others, not so much.