A parent and child are reading in a tent in their homeOn June 2, 2021, all public health orders in Dane County will be lifted. As a parent, you might be wondering how this affects your unvaccinated children. Before we dive into considerations for parents, let’s first look at why we feel comfortable lifting orders in the first place.

Why We Feel Comfortable Lifting Orders

The goals of public health orders have been met at this time.

The goals of our public health orders have always been to prevent severe outcomes and deaths, preserve hospital capacity, and protect the most vulnerable populations. The goal of orders has never been to reach zero cases of COVID-19 in Dane County. Because we have made such incredible strides towards these goals over the past year, we feel comfortable lifting the orders. We will continue to encourage individuals, businesses, and workplaces to follow best practices to reduce spread of the virus.

Case Counts

Our case counts have dropped dramatically over the past six months. On May 18, our 7-day average of cases per day is at 25, levels which we haven’t seen since last June—even as variants have become more predominant. We have been in a stable or declining state of COVID-19 activity, with daily increasing vaccine coverage, for almost all of 2021. There is simply less and less COVID-19 virus circulating in our communities.

Hospitalizations & Deaths

Hospitalization levels on May 18 remain five-fold lower than the fall 2020 peak. Treatment for COVID-19 has also improved over the course of the past year. Hospitals are able to care for people who need it—both those with COVID-19 and those seeking other emergency care—without having to stretch capacity. 99% of Dane County residents hospitalized for COVID-19 have been over the age of 11. Deaths have become exceedingly rare—of the 307 lives we’ve lost to COVID-19 in Dane County, less than 5% have occurred in the past two months.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

Cases among people 65+ have nosedived as this population became vaccinated. A Data Snapshot from last month clearly illustrates this effect. As of May 18, 95% of Dane County residents ages 65+ have received at least one dose of vaccine. The 7-day average of daily new cases was 31 when vaccinations started in mid-December; that number is now down to less than one case per day. Cases and clusters among people living in long-term care facilities or correctional facilities have similarly plummeted as vaccination rates have increased, illustrating how well the vaccine works.

Additionally, as demonstrated in our Year in Review Data Snapshot, cases in schools and childcare facilities tend to align with cases within the larger community. The peak of our cases in mid-November is also when cases in schools and childcare facilities peaked. As cases have been decreasing over the past couple of weeks, we’ve also seen fewer cases linked to schools and childcare facilities. Vaccinating older groups of people also decreases cases in children; if fewer people have COVID-19, it’s harder for children to get it.

It is also very easy to get vaccinated. There are dozens of vaccinators with ample doses throughout the county. If you want a shot, you can get a shot. Along with other vaccinators, we continue to support and host mobile clinics to reach people who may have trouble accessing vaccination through a healthcare provider or mass vaccination site.

The latest science overwhelmingly shows how effective the vaccines are at preventing illness, hospitalizations, and death from COVID-19.

Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19. Studies have shown that vaccines are just as effective in the real world as they were in trials. Our data showing high vaccination rates and low infection rates among older adults supports this too.

Dane County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Today, 63.6% of Dane County residents have at least one dose of vaccine, which makes Dane County the most vaccinated county in Wisconsin and currently the most vaccinated county in the country with a population size greater than 300,000. Among people eligible for vaccine (those ages 12+), 73.4% have at least one dose of vaccine, and this number only increases each day.

Considerations for Parents of Unvaccinated Kids

Get vaccinated yourself.

The most important thing you can do to protect your kids is ensure you and any eligible people in the house are vaccinated. Encourage the people in your kids’ lives, such as coaches, teachers, and family friends, to also get vaccinated. This helps form a circle of protection around your kids who are not yet able to get vaccinated. Get your kids vaccinated as soon as their age group is eligible.

Align your behaviors with your comfort with risks.

Many businesses are continuing to offer options that became popular in the past year, including curbside pickup, delivery, and online ordering. Continue to make use of these options if you aren’t comfortable bringing your child into an indoor public space.

CDC outlines certain activities by risk level. For example, it’s safer for an unvaccinated kid to have a playdate outside than to dine indoors at a busy restaurant. Determine what you’re comfortable with and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Have kids ages 2 and older mask up in indoor public spaces.

Per CDC guidance, we recommend any unvaccinated person ages 2 and older wear a mask when in indoor public spaces.

Ask organizers about your kid’s activities.

If your child participates in youth activities, such as music lessons or after school camps, ask them about their policies following the expiration of the June 2 order. We recommend that these youth activities follow CDC guidance, which at this time recommend groups of youth continue to wear masks.

Get tested if you or your kids have symptoms.

There are tons of options for getting tested in Dane County. We can test babies as young as 12 months old at Alliant Energy Center.

Common Questions & Answers

Do kids have to wear masks at schools?

Until June 2, masks are still required in indoor public spaces, including schools. After June 2, we recommend that schools and childcare sites follow guidance from CDC, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and the Department of Public Instruction, which states masks should continue to be worn indoors in school and childcare settings.

What about variants? Doesn’t that change things?

Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against most variants. As we stated above, we’re seeing fewer cases per day than we did last June—even as variants have become more predominant. In the 0-4 and 5-7 age groups, we’re currently seeing less than one case per day. In the 8-11 age group, less than two cases per day. These numbers were up to ten times higher last fall, before vaccines were available and before variants were circulating widely. While COVID-19 is not the same as seasonal influenza, in young children, severe illness and deaths from COVID-19 are about the same as they are for flu. Parents can protect kids by getting vaccinated and ensuring kids mask up when in indoor public spaces.

I’m vaccinated. Can I spread COVID-19 to my unvaccinated kids?

We are still learning how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms. Emerging data show that vaccines help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19. We know that people who don’t have COVID-19 can’t spread COVID-19. As of May 17 in Wisconsin, only 0.045% of vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-19 (these are called breakthrough infections). As a vaccinated person, to spread the virus, you’d need to be one of those 0.045% of people and you’d need to have a viral load high enough to transmit the virus. The odds of you spreading the virus are exceedingly small. Additionally, with low levels of virus circulating in our highly vaccinated community, the likelihood of encountering COVID-19 decreases every day.

Should my unvaccinated kids wear masks?

Per CDC guidance, we recommend any unvaccinated person ages 2 and older wear a mask when in indoor public spaces.

Can we still wear a mask if we want to?

Of course! Even though there will be no public health orders on June 2, you can still wear a mask if it makes you more comfortable. Some vaccinated parents might opt to wear a mask out of solidarity for their unvaccinated kids who need to mask up. While the science tells us that it’s safe for vaccinated people to go without masks, it can be scary to do so with the trauma of the past year. If you need a little more time before you shed your mask, you should feel empowered to take it.

As a parent, you make decisions on how to best protect your children every day—whether it’s making sure your kids buckle up, slathering on sunscreen before they head outdoors, or determining what activities they can participate in safely. At this stage in the pandemic, your decision about what you feel comfortable with may be different from another parent’s. That’s okay. Whatever choice you make is the right one for you and your family.

Throughout this pandemic, you have trusted us to follow the latest science and craft orders that elevate prevention behaviors and have reduced cases and saved lives. We are still following the latest science, which tells us that vaccines are effective and are working, that there is less virus circulating in our community right now, and that this move is the right one. We would not lift all orders if we didn’t feel it was safe and necessary given the latest evidence on transmission, our low case rates, and our exceptionally high vaccination rates.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.