Mask guidance eased, Milwaukee County COVID level 'low'

Milwaukee's mask ordinance ended March 1, with Saturday marking the first weekend without it since it was put in place in January.

New guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention take into account not just the number of COVID-19 cases, but hospital admissions and capacity.

Milwaukee County is considered in the "low" COVID-19 Community Level, per the CDCs guidelines, meaning masks inside are not necessary.

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Change is in the air, and it's carrying in a certain excitement.

"Everyone thinks this is balmy. We tell all our friends and family it’s a balmy 50 (degrees), so we’re going outside," Milwaukee resident Becca Acken.

As people peel back the layers – including the one over their faces – it can be a breath of fresh air for some.

"It feels more personable, like seeing people’s faces, so that’s a really nice change, can breathe a little easier," said Emily Peterson, who was visiting Milwaukee from Chicago on Saturday.

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"It gives us the sense we’re going to kind of be going back to reality, going back to the old norm," Blake Youngberg, also visiting from Chicago, said.

For now, masks are still needed when using public transportation, but the choice on whether to wear one indoors is back. Some plan to keep covering up.

"We are completely comfortable with whatever anyone wants to do," said Acken. "We don’t want to spread to each other, to our family, to our friends, to anyone."

Even without a mask, University of Wisconsin-Madison Associate Professor Ajay Sethi said, if you're vaccinated and boosted, you will likely avoid having a severe case of COVID-19.

"You can be extra cautious and wear a mask anyway, and that’s good," Sethi said. "It’s declining. I think it’s going to decline a lot more."

Sethi said, with declining cases and hospitalizations, the CDC's new recommendations are a sign of the times.

"If we kept a mandate in place, it’s going to overstay its welcome. We’re not going to be able to use that as a tool later on if warranted," said Sethi. "The wild card definitely is future variants."

Historic Third Ward

While mandates cannot be ruled out in the future, for now, people can breathe a little easier.

"Everybody be safe and take care, take care of each other," Acken said.

As of Saturday, the CDC said the counties in southeastern Wisconsin are all considered in the "low" COVID-19 Community Level – except Racine and Kenosha counties. In that case, health leaders recommend wearing a mask indoors.

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