Former County Executive Chris Holman at a Portage County Board meeting. (Metro Wire photo)

County releases new recommendations on masks and face-coverings

By Brandi Makuski

Leaders in Portage Co. have updated its guidance on masks and face-coverings in accordance with 10-day-old updates from the Centers for Disease Control.

In a lengthy news release on Monday, Portage Co. Executive Chris Holman said the county had advisory guidelines for residents who were vaccinated and those who were not.

“Although CDC guidance is now different for fully vaccinated individuals, remember that we are all still in this together and our individual choices still affect the greater community,” Holman said in his statement.

In what’s been labeled as a “Face covering advisory order,” fully-vaccinate individuals can return to normal activities without wearing a mask or social distancing, with exceptions for childcare and healthcare facilities, while traveling or on public transit, in group-living settings, such as a jail or homeless shelter, and in K-12 schools.

Anyone who is vaccinated should still get tested if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Anyone who hasn’t been fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks or face-coverings, Holman said, as they still post a risk of spreading the disease.

The new advisory remains in effect through July 31.

See the full advisory from Health Officer Gary Garkse here: PORTAGE COUNTY FACE COVERING ADVISORY ORDER

Holman’s remarks follow in their entirety:

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. Their updated guidance and recommendations are promising signs of not only being near the end of the pandemic phase of COVID-19 but also of the positive impacts of vaccines in mitigating the spread of the virus.

The research—both past and ongoing—shows that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in real-world settings. They not only help in preventing people exposed to the virus from having mild or severe symptoms, but they also have a significant, positive impact on hospitalization and death rates, especially for those who are fully vaccinated.

Like most municipal orders issued in the wake of the CDC’s changes, Portage County’s updated advisory order identifies separate recommendations and protocols for those who are considered fully vaccinated and those who are not yet vaccinated. It’s important to note that mask-wearing, regardless of vaccination status, continues to be an important tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Portage County and Wisconsin.

The guidance for individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated remains largely the same.

Remember that there are many in our community who cannot get vaccinated since there is no vaccine available to them yet or because they have conditions that do not make vaccination an option for them. We ask that all county residents keep this in mind, as this presents a serious challenge to these people in their daily lives.

As we enter the so-called vaccine era of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask that residents continue to respect each other. Although CDC guidance is now different for fully vaccinated individuals, remember that we are all still in this together and our individual choices still affect the greater community.

Continuing to approach our lives by mitigating the risks posed by COVID-19 is, by most reports, something that will be with us for some time. While case counts are down and our trajectory is currently trending in a good direction, pockets of the virus will continue to result in new cases of the virus, hospitalizations, and deaths. For this reason, organizations are encouraged to adopt or maintain policies that align with the updated CDC guidance, and the Division of Public Health supports the decision of businesses or organizations that continue to require masking for the safety of their staff and patrons.

As we’ve seen, the impacts of the virus can vary over time. Spikes in virus activity are still possible. With new variants emerging in the US and elsewhere across the globe, we may see a form of COVID-19 emerge that is more challenging and problematic than what we’ve dealt with to date. We see that happening today in some places, and in our globalized world, that means it’s inevitable that as variants from outside the US make their way here, variants that emerged here will make their way elsewhere, too.

Vaccination remains our strongest tool in tackling COVID-19. Recent studies highlight how nearly everyone who is ill and ended up in the hospital in the first part of this year was not fully vaccinated. In one study at the Cleveland Clinic, of the 4300 patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19, 99% were not fully vaccinated. Another study looking at hospital workers in the same time frame showed that 99.7% of those who were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated (Cleveland Clinic News Service, May 12, 2021).

The Division of Public Health is grateful for those who have already chosen to get vaccinated. We are hopeful that this guidance will encourage others to get vaccinated in order to protect our friends and families from COVID-19.

For more information on the CDC’s new guidance please visit: