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The plan includes metrics and a blueprint for reopening Dane County

Today Public Health Madison & Dane County released Forward Dane, a plan for the phased reopening of Dane County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Forward Dane is our blueprint for a safe and gradual reopening of Dane County,” said Dane County Executive Parisi. “We, like many in our county, are eager for economic stability in our community. We also know that slowing the spread of COVID-19 is critical in order to keep people safe and protect our hospital systems. Forward Dane will guide us to a future in which we can reopen our community while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

Forward Dane defines nine data metrics in three categories.

  • Epidemiology: ability for healthcare and public health systems to handle growth in cases
    • Percent positive tests
    • Cases per day
  • Healthcare: healthcare system capacity
    • Tests conducted
    • Testing for healthcare workers
    • Patients treated without crisis care
    • Healthcare workers with COVID-19
  • Public health: ability to contain infections that do occur
    • Lab reporting timeliness and contact tracing
    • Community spread
    • COVID-like symptoms

“Metrics help us understand the growth in cases, the healthcare system’s current capacity, and public health’s ability to contain the spread of the virus. Some metrics are an extension of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Badger Bounce Back Plan, while others are new metrics tailored to our local area. These metrics are critical for assessing our readiness to reopen Dane County,” said Janel Heinrich, Public Health Madison & Dane County Director.

Metrics will be updated weekly on

In addition to the metrics that will guide reopening, Forward Dane gives an overview of what requirements will be in place for businesses and organizations during each reopening phase. The first step is a Safe Reopen or “prepare” order, followed by three additional phases, each with gradually less restrictive criteria.

“The data look promising, but widespread community testing began just a week ago, and limited testing results are in. We need some time to assess the impact of widespread testing before we make any drastic changes,” said Heinrich. “However, today we are comfortable moving to the phase that allows businesses to prepare to reopen safely. This order will go into effect tomorrow, May 19.”

A few of the key changes include:

  • Removes all restrictions on travel.
  • Opens tennis courts and disc golf courses with certain limitations.
  • Allows all businesses to perform minimum basic operations to prepare for a safe reopening.
  • Includes requirements about hygiene, cleaning, and other protective measures that must be followed by businesses that reopen.
  • Removes criminal penalty for violating the order.

“Changes in orders are confusing, and we know how frustrating they have been for businesses and the public. By enacting today’s Prepare for a Safe Reopen phase, we are making sure each sector has time to get things ready for safe operations during Phase 1,” said Heinrich.

Public Health estimates spending at least two weeks—that’s one COVID-19 incubation period—in phases 1-3 to assess the data and ensure the changes did not cause an unmanageable increase in cases. The metrics and criteria identified in Forward Dane will guide any decision making to move between phases.

“Like everyone else, we are eager to reopen businesses and work towards normalcy, but we want to be realistic and practical. We don’t want to rush the process and undo the progress we have made so far,” said City of Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway. “Data will guide us, and we thank everyone in our community for their continued diligence and patience as we forge this path forward together.”