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Schools serving K-2 students are allowed to offer in-person instruction with precautions or can choose to go virtual

Due to the current average COVID-19 case count in Dane County, Public Health Madison & Dane County is issuing Emergency Order #9. The order requires all county schools to begin the school year virtually for students in grades 3-12, closing them to in-person pupil instruction, effective August 24, 2020 at 12:01 am. Grades K-2 may have in-person pupil instruction, with precautions outlined in the Order. Schools serving K-2 students are not required to open for in-person instruction, and those that choose to provide in-person pupil instruction for grades K-2 must still offer virtual learning options for students.

“Moving students in grades 3-12 to virtual learning is not a step we take lightly, as schools provide critical services, and in-person instruction offers unparalleled opportunities and structure for students and parents,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “Given our current case count, we believe moving students in grades 3-12 to virtual learning is necessary for the safety of our community.”

While research on school-aged children continues to emerge and evolve, a number of systematic reviews have found that school-aged children contract COVID-19 at lower rates than older populations. This is particularly pronounced among younger school-aged children.

Public Health Madison & Dane County has defined school metrics to guide decisions for in-person instruction. As of August 21, Dane County is averaging 42 cases per day. In order to consider reopening grades 3-5 for in-person instruction, Dane County must sustain at or below a 14-day average of 39 cases per day for four consecutive weeks.  

In order to consider reopening grades 6-12 for in-person instruction, Dane County must sustain at or below a 14-day average of 19 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. Should Dane County’s average number of cases per day over a two-week period increase above 54, we would consider closing all schools to in-person instruction.

The metrics and criteria were determined using guidance from Forward Dane, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Harvard Global Health Institute, and the Minnesota Department of Public Health, among others. More information is available on the Public Health Madison & Dane County website.

The metrics will be used to help inform Public Health decisions to reopen schools and will be assessed in combination with Forward Dane metrics, data trajectory (increasing, stable, or decreasing), current best practices, federal and state guidance, and unforeseen influencing factors.

“As we’ve seen throughout the country, schools that are opening too quickly—particularly with older students—are having outbreaks,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “By allowing K-2 students to return to the classroom with strict precautions and keeping grades 3-12 virtual, we can minimize outbreaks. Many school districts have already made the decision to go virtual for all grades, and we support their choice.”

Public Health Madison & Dane County will continue to work closely with schools, as we have been during the entire pandemic. Public health staff meet with school leadership and school stakeholders twice a week to answer questions, provide data, and share resources.

As this is a novel disease and we are learning more each day, the thresholds Public Health has established will be frequently reexamined and potentially updated as additional information about COVID-19 transmission, mitigation, impact, testing, and treatments become available.

“We currently have robust testing and a stable healthcare system, and currently the average of new cases among Dane County children 17 and under has not increased since early August. However, we still haven't met our target for community case counts to safely reopen all schools for in-person instruction," said Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. “We all have a role to play in suppressing the virus to a level that will allow us to reopen all schools."

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.

Emergency Order #9 also updates some childcare requirements, incorporates some aspects of the statewide mask mandate, and makes some additional clarifications.

For more information about COVID-19 in Dane County, visit