CDC Updates COVID Mask Guidelines: What It Means In Wisconsin

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WISCONSIN — The Biden administration is expected to loosen federal COVID-19 mask guidance Friday as infection rates return to pre-omicron variant levels around the country.

The bottom line of the expected changes: Most Americans will live in areas where federal guidelines say they’re not required to wear masks indoors.

There isn’t a statewide mask mandate, but municipalities like Racine, Madison and Milwaukee have enacted their own face covering policies. However, the ordinances in Madison and Milwaukee are set to end in March.

Find out what’s happening in Milwaukee with free, real-time updates from Patch.

Public Health Madison & Dane County won’t require masks to be worn in public indoor spaces as COVID-19 cases nosedive, the health department said in a statement.

Milwaukee Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson told CBS58 that he planned to let Milwaukee’s indoor masking ordinance expire in March.

Find out what’s happening in Milwaukee with free, real-time updates from Patch.

Racine’s mayor signed an executive order to suspend an indoor masking order on Thursday, TMJ4 reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that people wear masks in areas with substantial or high transmission — roughly about 95 percent of U.S. counties, according to the latest data. The expected new guidance comes as the virus becomes endemic and the Biden administration focuses on preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19 rather than all instances of infection.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tweeted Thursday that the agency is shifting its focus to concentrate on preventing the spread of COVID-19 to minimize the strain on the health care system.

Walensky didn’t say when the announcement would be made, though The Associated Press and other news outlets have cited unnamed sources saying the new recommendations would likely come Friday.

In a White House briefing last week, she said hospital capacity is an “important barometer.”

“Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes,” she said. “Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line.”

In her Thursday night tweets, Walensky said community infection rates will determine when and where extra precautions such as mask wearing and testing should be targeted.

“Moving forward, our approach will advise enhanced prevention efforts in communities with a high volume of severe illness and will also focus on protecting our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed,” she tweeted.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus is highly contagious, but generally causes less severe COVID-19 illnesses than other variants, especially among people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, data shows.

Daily U.S. COVID-19 infection rates are down to about 82,000 cases nationwide, according to a database kept by The New York Times, and hospitalizations are down about 44 percent. However, about 2,000 people a day still are dying of the virus, The Times reported.

Omicron infection rates in Wisconsin are extremely low compared to January: The total number of new COVID-19 infections was 775 new cases on Wednesday, with a seven-day average of 864 new cases per day, data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showed.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County was 100 new cases, data from the Milwaukee County COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard showed.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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