YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: Looking at what’s next for mask mandates and guidelines

Wisconsin doctors say we may be in a better position based on immunity levels achieved through vaccinations.
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 4:17 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A federal judge in Florida has voided the national mask mandate for air travel and other public transportation. Today’s ruling on April 18 says the mandate exceeded the authority of U.S. health officials and the C.DC. failed to justify its decision. The policy required passengers on airplanes, trains, and other public transportation to wear a face covering. The mandate had been extended until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 stealth omicron variant. The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if they planned to appeal.

Prior to today’s order, federal health officials had been working on what type of COVID guidelines to adapt to going forward, including a more flexible masking strategy. Before the federal mask mandate for travel was voided today, the White House said it had been extended to continue watching the latest variant of omicron’s impact in the hospitals and on everyday practices.

“It also impacts people in their personal daily lives with kids at school and other activities in the community,” Dr. Michael Landrum, an infectious disease physician at Bellin Health, shared. “You hear kind of frustrations of ‘maybe well we shouldn’t have this get together because of COVID’ or something like that.”

Philadelphia reinstated its indoor mask mandate on Monday, inspiring a mix of frustration and support. Local doctors said we may be in a better position in Wisconsin based on the immunity levels in our communities as people continue to get vaccinated.

“We could see cases increase but we may not see hospitalizations and deaths significantly increase based on that local level of protection,” chief quality officer at UW Health, Dr. Jeff Pothof, said. “That’s what we’re kind of banking on.”

Wisconsin doctors shared that it’s unlikely we will be seeing a mask mandate here anytime soon. Even though they are watching the number of COVID cases closely.

“When we look at Wisconsin and across the country really, we’re seeing pockets and regions that are having increased numbers of cases once again, unfortunately,” Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, highlighted. “We enjoyed a lull in COVID and we still are at low numbers but nonetheless the number of cases as well as our percent positivity is rising.”

As of April 14, Brown County’s COVID community level was low. Wisconsin DHS reported a slight increase in the ‘7 Day Percent Positive by Test Rate’ compared to last month, now up about six percent.

“Typically in the early stages of a spike, it is a little bit slow,” chief clinical officer, Dr. Mark Cockley, said. “Then you get that exponential growth as it really takes hold. So, being cautious still, wearing a mask when you can, distancing.”

The mental toll of needing to potentially wear masks and socially distance again after two years of COVID fatigue is something health experts are already trying to combat with their patients.

“It would be the same psychological impact of boarding a plane and they say ‘sorry we have to get off, we can’t take off yet.’ “ a psychiatrist at the Medical College of Wisconsin Dr. Himanshu Agrawal emphasized. “Then they say, ‘just kidding you have to get on again.’ Then they say ‘sorry, we have to get off.’ It would be the same kind of psychological impact.”

Doctors continue to reiterate that despite the risks of social isolation, if you feel sick, stay home and rest to try and help yourself and others stay healthy. Secondly, wash your hands which can help fight against other illnesses like a cold or the flu. In addition, if you are in a large indoor group setting, think about wearing a mask.

Annie Krall is a former writer and producer for ABC NEWS New York City on the national medical and business units. Prior to that position, she was accepted to medical school her senior year at Northwestern University, after spending four years as a pre-medical student. However, Krall deferred her acceptance to pursue a Master in Health, Environment, and Science Journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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