‘I’m All for It’: Dane County Residents Get Used to Life Under a Mask Ordinance

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By Jessica VanEgeren

July 14, 2020

Some residents say ordinance will provide consistency if schools reopen, get back to normal business operations more quickly.

Before Dane County’s mandatory mask ordinance took effect Monday, Khayriyyah Khaaliq already was getting her 2-year-old daughter comfortable wearing one. 

“First, I got her one with her favorite character, Minnie Mouse, on it,” said Khaaliq. “Then I just kept telling her “you’ve got to keep it on. You’ve got to keep it on.’”

It helps that Ashyra’s older sister, Jakyra Johnson, wears one, too. Little kids model the behavior they see, Khaaliq said. 

“She mimics what her sister does,” Khaaliq said. “If she sees her wearing it she’ll put out her hand and ask for her mask.”

On Tuesday, a day after Dane County’s mandatory mask ordinance took effect, Khalliq and her two daughters walked through the entranceway of the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison. All three were wearing masks. 

'I'm All for It': Dane County Residents Get Used to Life Under a Mask Ordinance
Jan Anderson has been volunteering at Henry Vilas Zoo for five years. On Tuesday, she greeted visitors and handed out free masks for those who did not have one. (Photo © Andy Manis)

As they entered the zoo, they were greeted by volunteers Jan Anderson and her 11-year-old granddaughter Kendall Zeitler. With COVID numbers surging in Dane County and across the state, it is the job of volunteers like Anderson to inform guests of the new expectations. 

For starters, if you do not have a mask, one will be given to you. If someone refuses to wear a mask, she lets them enter the zoo and then calls management. 

“Most people are coming with their masks already on,” Anderson said. 

She then tells visitors to follow the big blue paw prints around the zoo to ensure traffic is going one-way. The green paw prints signal a sanitization station is located close by. To maintain social distancing, the train and carousel are not running and the big playground area is closed. 

'I'm All for It': Dane County Residents Get Used to Life Under a Mask Ordinance
The playground area is now closed at Henry Vilas Zoo. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced last week that the surge in cases was prompting the decision to require a mask ordinance. 

For the two weeks starting June 13, Dane County saw 614 new cases of COVID-19 and about half were seen in people between ages 18 and 25. The average age of those testing positive dropped to 23, according to Dane County public health officials. 

While county health officials are attributing the rise to younger adults congregating at bars and restaurants, Dan and Leah said they have not been engaging in those activities.

“Alcohol and the coronavirus don’t mix,” Rhodes-Conway said when announcing the mask ordinance with Parisi. 

Since the announcement was made there have been 638 new positive cases in Dane County and one virus-related death, according to the state Department of Health Services. Since the pandemic started, there have been 3,148 positive cases in Dane County and 33 deaths.

Along with mandatory masks for all county residents aged 5 and older, the county rolled back guidelines. Indoor dining is limited to 25 percent capacity, outdoor setting must be 6 feet apart, and bars are carry-out only. Masks are required for outdoor and indoor dining areas unless guests are eating or drinking. 

Patrick DePula has four Salvatore’s restaurant locations in Dane County. While business owners across the state have differing practices on whether or not their staff and patrons wear masks, DePula has always required his staff to wear them.

“I’m all for things that can limit the spread of the COVID,” DePula said Tuesday. “People can debate the data all they want, but if wearing a mask lessens the chance that someone will get COVID … I am all for it.”

He said it is unfortunately not uncommon for those coming to eat at the restaurant to give the hostess or wait staff a hard time about having to wear a mask from the entranceway to their table. 

“I don’t understand why some people can’t put politics or whatever problem they have with masks aside for the 10 or 20 feet they need to have it on until they reach their table,” he said. “Once they get a drink or start eating they don’t have to keep wearing it.”

If someone comes to his restaurants without a mask they can purchase one for $1. 

“I think locally, everyone is doing as much as they can to keep residents and businesses informed,” DePula said. “On the federal level it is an absolute failure. We have a commander-in-chief who consistently questions the experts. That does not instill confidence in our government.”

Kirsten Johnson is a high school teacher at Sauk Prairie high school. During the summer she and a friend work as nannies for two families with four children ranging in age from 5 to 8. On Tuesday, they were all at the zoo.

When asked if the masks were comfortable to wear the two 8-year-olds quickly shock their heads no. The kids call corona “the sickness.” Their parents work in health care and there is a lot of explaining what “the sickness” is and why they need to wear one to protect themselves and others, Johnson said. 

'I'm All for It': Dane County Residents Get Used to Life Under a Mask Ordinance
Kirsten Johnson is a resident of Dane County and a teacher at Sauk Prairie High School. She said a mask ordinance in Sauk County would make it easier for schools to enforce a mask rule when schools reopen. (Photo © Andy Manis)

“It’s just part of our routine now when we leave the house,” Johnson said. “We ask “do you have your hat? Do you have your water bottle and do you have your mask?”

Johnson said she thinks the ordinance in Dane County should be enacted by Sauk County health officials. She said a county-wide rule provides more consistency, especially with schools trying to reopen this fall.

“It would just be a lot easier for us to say wearing a mask is a requirement in this building if it was a requirement given out by the county as well,” Johnson said. “It would make going back to school much easier.”

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