March 10, at 12:01 p.m., an amendment to the current pandemic gathering restrictions will go into place. While this is hopefully a step in the right direction to regaining some normalcy, it is still very important to ensure mask guidelines and social distancing recommendations are followed so Dane County does not have another surge in cases.

The current gathering guidelines limit indoor gatherings where food and drink are served to 25 people and indoor gatherings where there is no food or drink to 50 people. Those limits will be raised to 150 people and 350 people respectively, while outdoor gathering limits will be raised from 150 to 500 people and outside gatherings of more than 50 people will require face masks to be worn.

While these increased limits are an indication that pandemic life may be turning a corner to normalcy, there needs to be an added emphasis on maintaining the still-intact COVID-19 guidelines.

Face masks and social distancing should be required at any gathering, whether it be 10 people or 100. Just because an event may be under 50 people doesn’t mean the event is automatically COVID-19-free. While it should be safe to assume no one with the virus would go to an event where they can expose others, it cannot be said with 100% certainty.

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“We hope that even with these changes we can maintain and improve upon our progress while we work to reclaim our pre-pandemic vibrancy,” Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County Janel Heinrich said according to a recent Cap Times article .

While this is a good goal, this will not be reached if there isn’t a strict following of the current rules set in place for COVID-19. This goal is also a direct counter to the recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned that new COVID-19 variants threaten national progress.

These more contagious strains are not just possibilities, as they have been detected not only in Dane County, but possibly on the University of Wisconsin campus. This led the UW system to send out a warning that actions such as canceling recreational activities and placing residence halls under quarantine will be taken should circumstances worsen.

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With these findings, the increased limits on gatherings that are to begin March 10 seem counterintuitive.

“To maintain our progress and continue on this path, we want to remind everyone to stay vigilant by masking up and avoiding close contact with others whenever possible,” Heinrich said.

Why then, are the limits being increased and gatherings under 50 allowed to go on without the requirement of wearing a mask? This time has been hard on everyone, but it is essential to understand the pandemic is not over.

With the increase of vaccinations, there is hope the decline in cases will continue and not spike again, but this is not a guarantee. Keeping current COVID-19 guidelines in place can help ensure that a level of normalcy could be seen closer to the summertime, but changing the guidelines now, especially as more contagious strains are found, could set back the progress that has been made.

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“These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” Walensky said. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

If we focus on continuing what we are doing to stay safe, it is possible sometime in the coming months we could safely and effectively reduce the limitations currently in place, but we need to reach that point first, not jump ahead to progress that has not yet been made.

Grace A. Metzler ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in legal studies and social welfare.