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Local health officials announced new COVID-19 guidelines and issued a new emergency order today.
“Among other things, indoor gatherings in which food and drink are provided, are increasing to a max of 150 people,” said Janel Heinrich, the director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, when she announced the changes earlier today. “Indoor gatherings without food and drink have a max capacity of 350 and people, and outdoor gatherings are increasing to 500 people. Dine-in capacity for restaurants is increasing to 50 percent of seating capacity. Masking and distancing remain key mitigation requirements.”
The new order further eases restrictions put into place during the pandemic. It increases gathering limits and updates school policy requirements. The changes double the number of people restaurants are allowed to serve indoors, and allows bars to open to quarter capacity.
The local order goes into effect next week Wednesday, March 10th. Meanwhile, neighboring Rock County today announced a loosening of restrictions, effective immediately.
The changes come on the back of good news surrounding infections and vaccinations. The seven-day average number of new positive COVID cases is the lowest that it has been in an entire year, since the pandemic began. The state’s vaccination plan moved into a new phase, expanding the groups of people who are eligible for those vaccinations. And according to Julie Willems Van Dijk, the deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, many Wisconsinites have already been vaccinated.
“As of today, 1,466,654 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Wisconsin,” said Van Dijk. “510,239 of those are second doses, which means 510,239 individuals have completed their vaccine series. Well over half of Wisconsinites aged 65 or older have received their first dose.”
Over 510,000 having received both doses of the vaccine means almost 9% of Wisconsinites are now immune to the disease.
In addition, a new vaccine made by pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson was recently approved, and 47,000 doses of that vaccine are headed to Wisconsin. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot to complete, and while it still needs to be refrigerated, it does not need to be stored in ultra-cold conditions, which makes it easier to distribute to rural communities. Van Dijk says that the state is also working to expand the groups of people who are eligible for the vaccine.
“Beyond those groups previously eligible, we are now prioritizing education and childcare staff first, and then individuals enrolled in medicaid long-term care programs, some public-facing essential workers-like 911 operators, public transit workers and grocery store workers-non frontline essential healthcare personnel, and staff and residents of congregate living facilities,” said Van Dijk.
Van Dijk encourages people to call eligible vaccine providers to see if they are eligible or can be waitlisted.
But while COVID cases are dropping, the virus has not yet gone away. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway emphasized that today, saying that people still need to take precautions to protect themselves from infection.
“We need you to keep wearing your masks, keep washing your hands, and keep staying six feet apart from people who are not in your household,” said Rhodes-Conway. “And when your time comes, we need you to get the vaccine.”
Yesterday, the state confirmed 298 new cases of COVID-19. That’s the lowest number of cases for any day since last June.