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Emergency Order #9 required grades 3-12 to be closed to in-person instruction to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Following this order, three lawsuits were filed challenging the authority of a local health officer to close schools.

On September 10, after nearly 500 more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in one day in Dane County, the Wisconsin Supreme Court assessed the three cases together and entered a temporary injunction. The injunction allows K-12 schools in Dane County to fully open for in-person instruction until the case is heard in front of the court and a ruling on the permanent injunction is issued.

On September 15, Public Health Madison & Dane County filed a motion to inform the court of additional statutes that support a local health officer’s authority to close schools. We are hopeful the court will consider these statutes and lift the temporary injunction.

At this time, due to the high prevalence of COVID-19 in Dane County, Public Health Madison & Dane County strongly urges school leadership to continue providing grades 3-12 virtually.

Dane County's Current Status

  • More people than ever are being diagnosed with COVID-19 in Dane County. The most recent 14-day average was 94 cases per day, which doubled from the prior reporting period. Dane County hit a one-day record of cases on September 9 with 487.
  • The Department of Health Services categorizes Dane County as having a high and growing, burden of disease.
  • We are also in a period of some of the highest percent positivity that the county has ever had.
  • About a third of people who test positive for COVID-19 do not know where they could have been exposed, indicating we have community spread, and people should limit contact with others.
  • A high percentage of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are associated with UW-Madison. We are monitoring for spread from UW to the larger Madison and Dane County community, but given the incubation period of COVID-19, this spread might take time to become evident.   

Why a Phased Opening is Important

Schools are a reflection of our community. If the number of people who have COVID-19 in our community is high and growing, we could see that reflected in schools if they were to broadly open to in-person instruction. In areas without phased reopenings, such as in Rock and Green Counties, there have already been outbreaks that warranted closures, which is further evidence that a slow approach is appropriate.

Dane County is home to approximately 169 public schools (in 16 districts) and 45 private or charter schools. Opening in a phased manner, with grades K-2 first, is a way to carefully minimize risk of exposure to the greatest extent possible while supporting a way to get back to school. As we reintroduce in-person school, we must ensure we are still able to identify and contain the number of cases that are likely to result from more people being exposed in more settings.

In the Public Health Madison & Dane County phased school reopening plan, students in grades 3-5, and then 6-12 are able to come back to in-person school when Dane County case counts hit pre-determined levels, explained in our school metrics document.

Looking Forward

As we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, Public Health Madison & Dane County will continue to meet with schools weekly to listen to concerns, answer questions, and connect school leaders with resources.

We will continue to update data weekly on our website and advise schools on their reopening plans. We strongly urge school leadership to continue providing instruction for grades 3-12 virtually.

Each of us must do our part to reduce the spread of the virus. When we all limit trips out, avoid gathering, wear our masks, stay six feet from others, and follow other public health recommendations, the virus can’t spread as easily. When the virus can’t spread, our case count goes down, and schools will be able to reopen and stay open.