The DeForest, Middleton-Cross Plains, Monona Grove, Mount Horeb, Stoughton, Verona and Wisconsin Heights school districts have not yet made a decision regarding mask requirements in school buildings for the 2021-22 school year. Most of the Dane County districts that responded to requests for comment said they plan to finalize safety plans in August. Belleville administrator Nate Perry said the district will begin the school year with masks optional in classrooms but will follow Public Health Madison and Dane County guidelines should they change. The Waunakee Community School District will also make masking optional for students at the start of the year. District administration is exploring the possibility of providing mandatory masking in some classrooms for students under 12, spokesperson Anne Blackburn said.
Public Health Madison & Dane County, which had a mask mandate that applied to schools through June 2 this year, anticipates announcing its guidance next week, according to an email from PHMDC communications manager Sarah Mattes.
That leaves decisions to local school boards or district administrators. Local officials are in a position to hear complaints no matter what decision they make, as evidenced by the mixed feedback from parents at a recent Waunakee Community School Board meeting.
Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), said during an afternoon press conference that wearing masks is not a “black and white” issue of vaccination status, but depends on factors like disease spread in a given area. She acknowledged that in elementary school settings, where most students are not vaccine-eligible, it might be easier for everyone to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.
“In terms of how schools will enforce this, as we’ve talked about throughout the pandemic, schools are led by local school boards and local superintendents and we encourage them to think about the most protective way to ensure the safety of their students,” Van Dijk said. “But those decisions are decisions that will be made at a local level.”
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which pushed Dane County this week not to calculate its percentage of positive tests — a data point the public uses to determine how intense infection is in an area.
While positive test results are being processed and their number reported quickly, negative test results are taking days in some cases to be analyzed before they are reported to the state.
The department said it was between eight and 10 days behind in updating that metric on the dashboard, and as a result it appeared to show a higher positive percentage of tests and a lower number of total tests per day.
The department said this delay is due to the fact data analysts must input each of the hundreds of tests per day manually, and in order to continue accurate and timely contact tracing efforts, they prioritized inputting positive tests.
“Positive tests are always immediately verified and processed, and delays in processing negative tests in our data system does not affect notification of test results,” the department said in a news release. “The only effect this backlog has had is on our percent positivity rate and daily test counts.”
Staff have not verified the approximately 17,000 tests, which includes steps such as matching test results to patients to avoid duplicating numbers and verifying the person who was tested resides in Dane County.
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