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JANESVILLE

The Rock County Health Department has lifted the county’s COVID-19 mask order, giving its blessing for people to go without face coverings in many public spaces.

In a notice released Friday, department Director Katrina Harwood announced the county’s order was lifted effective noon May 14. The word came a day after the Centers for Disease Control released new guidance that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely resume most regular activities without masks.

In a statement Friday, Harwood said the county was lifting its own orders. She said if it has been at least two weeks since a person received a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, studies show it is safe to stop wearing masks in many situations.

“Now that more of our residents have been vaccinated, we are removing the mask order so that those people can take advantage of the benefits of being vaccinated,” Harwood said in the statement. “We encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they can. We understand that many people still have questions and concerns, and that is normal. If you are unsure about whether the vaccine is right for you, please talk to your doctor.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is free and available to all people ages 12 and older.

Statewide, the Department of Health Services reports about 35% of Wisconsin residents have been fully vaccinated. In Rock County also about 35% have been fully vaccinated, according to state health data.

The number of those in Rock County who are considered fully vaccinated is similar to the national average, which Friday was about 36% of all U.S. residents.

About 43% of Rock County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and are considered “partially vaccinated,” according to state health data. Rock County officials estimate the rate of positive COVID-19 infections among those tested in the past two weeks is about 5.4%—a decline from recent weeks.

Harwood said under continuing CDC guidelines, masks are still mandatory on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation.

“There may also be other federal, local and facility requirements in place that everyone should continue to follow,” she wrote. “Businesses may choose to keep mask requirements in place for everyone rather than asking for vaccination status.”

In its repeal of the local masking mandate, the Rock County Health Department said it continues to follow CDC guidance and “strongly recommends” that regardless of vaccination status, everyone should wear masks in healthcare settings, at schools, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters—all settings that present a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“As more people become vaccinated, these recommendations will continue to be reviewed,” Harwood wrote.

After the county’s announcement Friday, the Janesville School District issued an alert stating it will continue to require “all individuals” age 5 and older to wear masks inside district buildings.

School district spokesman Patrick Gasper wrote while the county has more than 30% of people fully vaccinated overall, only 9.3% of children age 16 to 17 in the district are fully vaccinated. Gasper wrote the district estimates about 21.7% of those students have had a first dose of the vaccination.

Children age 12 to 15 are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but Gasper noted it will be at least five weeks before children in that age group would become fully vaccinated. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible to receive vaccinations.

Meanwhile, most schools in Rock County continue to report positive COVID-19 cases in tandem with quarantine of those who have had close contact with others who are infected, Gasper wrote.

Harwood said people should continue to follow quarantine and isolation requirements to help contain the spread.

Rock County officials recommend vaccinated people who might be at high risk of infectious disease or who have weakened immune systems “may want to continue wearing a mask.” The county also suggests anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested and stay isolated from others while awaiting test results.

Those who are fully vaccinated and have had contact with someone with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine unless they display symptoms, officials said.

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