Local health officials, UWSP react to extended mask mandate

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 6:59 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Governor Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency in Wisconsin on Tuesday, and the statewide mask mandate will continue for at least another 60 days.

Evers attributed the new face coverings order to young adults ages 18-24.

He said eight Wisconsin cities are in the top-20 cities in the United States with the fastest rise in COVID-19 cases, and six of those cities have University of Wisconsin campuses.

While Stevens Point is not one of those top-20 cities, the Portage County Health Department said over the past four weeks they have seen a jump of about 50 COVID-19 cases per day.

Some of that increase is attributed to students coming back for school, as well as other community events.

“It will just show you how quickly this virus can spread and we have seen this in other community-type of outings that we have been noticing,” Portage County Health and Human Services Director Ray Przybelski said.

Portage County Health and Human Services said they’re pleased with the extension of the mask mandate to keep people safe and that the numbers show it’s necessary for another 60 days.

“Over 25% of all of our cases are attributed to that 20-to-30-year-old age range so I would agree with the governor that we are certainly seeing that population have a higher number of cases,” Przybelski said.

Przybelski said as students have come back to school, they are tempted to have large social gatherings and may unwittingly forget to take COVID-19 precautions.

UW-Stevens Point said a majority of their cases are off campus.

“Almost 60% of our cases… [are] off campus,” UWSP Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Al Thompson said. “It doesn’t take much if you’re in a house of four or five students housing together… and one person goes back to their home town or they go somewhere and come back with the virus, it infects the entire household.”

UWSP is taking a number of safety precautions including mask wearing, social distancing, sanitizing, constant communication with students, among other things.

Thompson believes more testing results in more cases.

“All of our UW campuses are doing surveillance testing, antigen testing of all our students living in the residents halls. So as you have more students being tested, and more people being tested, of course they’re going to come back with positive cases,” Thompson said.

While both Portage County Health and Human Services and UWSP are glad about the mask extension, they want to remind people that everyone is in the fight against the pandemic together and the only way to slow the spread is to follow the right safety protocols.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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