Looking Back On Our Pandemic Response
Today, Public Health Madison Dane County, the Mayor and County Executive announced that all public health orders will end on June 2. Below is the Mayor’s statement from today’s press conference.
Not since the “Great Influenza” of 1918 has humanity faced a public health crisis of this magnitude. But there is something very different about this pandemic. And that difference is robust, transparent, and fast-moving science.
When Madison faced its first case of COVID-19 in February 2020, our public health, UW and hospital systems leapt into action to learn everything they could about this novel virus and its threat to our community.
Since then, Public Health Director Janel Heinrich, the County Executive and I have met almost weekly to share information and perspectives, discuss emerging issues, debate disagreements and constantly reference the data to make sure we were on course. This process resulted in remarkable unanimity and a desire to be guided by the science at each step of the pandemic.
Once again we follow the science by announcing that our public health orders will end June 2. We estimate that by then 75% of our eligible Dane County population will be vaccinated.
This is a remarkable achievement, not only will it be one of the highest rates of vaccination in the country, but it is a layer of protection that will lift our whole community.
Many will not be comfortable moving to a maskless environment, but that is OK. As more science rolls in, I know that people’s confidence in these next steps will grow.
In the meantime, it is good to look back over a remarkable year.
- Last March, we were the first community in the state to issue public health orders restricting mass gatherings.
- We were among the first to produce a data dashboard, to set up mass testing sites and mass vaccination sites.
All our actions had an equity-driven focus on those most vulnerable to COVID-19. That focus will continue as we push to lift vaccination rates in those communities.
At the City, we set up an Emergency Operation Center that is still meeting today. Thousands of City workers never paused in providing essential services including first responders, metro bus drivers, garbage collectors and countless others.
Protesters showed up at the State Capital Building, City Hall and yes at Janel’s house demanding that we bow to considerations other than science and the best interests of the community. Too many lawsuits were filed against our orders, but once again the science prevailed.
Our statewide leadership in this area was recognized by the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards and Janel Heinrich was recently named “Public Health Officer of the Year”. If there was ever a year to garner this award this was it. Thank you Janel for your leadership.
And while many people have gotten sick, and too many have died, our case counts were consistently lower than other places around the state and country.
By following the science, we kept our community as safe as we could.
Now, we lead the nation in vaccinations, especially for folks over 65 who are over 90 percent vaccinated. Our youngest are working hard to catch up, with 12+ percent of kids 12-15 vaccinated after only a week of being eligible.
Yet again, we need to follow the science:
The science shows that there is very low risk to anyone who has been fully vaccinated, and that it is safe to go about our lives without a mask.
The science shows that if you are not vaccinated, you are much safer if you mask up.
And the science shows that masks remain an effective tool not just against COVID-19, but against colds and the flu.
The science shows that we are all safer if employees are able to take paid time off when they are ill, with COVID or anything else.
The science shows that discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or other factors harms our health and the health of our community.
All along, our goal has been to preserve the capacity of our hospital systems to provide care, and to offer the best guidance possible to our community on how we can all keep ourselves and each other safe.
Now it’s clear: the best way to keep ourselves and each other safe is to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Once we do, we no longer need the other tools we’ve been relying on this whole, long year.
Of course – each of us has to make our own decisions about what is best for us, our families, and our work places.
Businesses may decide to keep masking requirements indoors, and I support them in doing so. Individuals may choose to keep wearing masks, and I support them in doing so. And we all should keep washing our hands!
But we should all get vaccinated. To those who are fully vaccinated – thank you. To those who are one shot in – don’t forget to come back for your second shot. For those who haven’t gotten a shot yet – what are you waiting for? The science is clear – the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and extraordinarily effective. And they are very easy to get.
As a community, we should be proud of the way we’ve weathered this pandemic.
I’m thankful to have such great partners in Janel and the County Executive.
And I’m thankful to live in a place that believes in science and cares for each other so deeply.