Some approve local resolutions, but most communities are taking no enforcement actions.
Even though the Republican-led Assembly delayed a vote last week expected to overturn a statewide face mask order intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a handful of Wisconsin local governments have existing mask regulations in place while others are considering adopting them.
The orders enacted by local governments will remain in place even if the statewide order is overturned, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
Among locations with existing face mask regulations are Dane County, Madison, and Milwaukee— locations hit hardest by COVID-19-related case numbers and deaths. Other locations with mask rules in place include Green Bay, Racine, Whitewater, Whitefish Bay, Shorewood, and Wausau.
With the actions by the Legislature looming, Superior and Eau Claire are hurrying to adopt mask regulations after having previously approved rules stipulating masks be worn in public places, but allowed them to lapse once the state mask order was enacted and subsequently extended.
The Superior City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution to mandate that masks be worn in public places in the city through the end of April.
“If the statewide mask order disappears, we want to make sure we have protections against [the virus] in place,” Superior Mayor Jim Paine said, noting numerous business owners have contacted his office requesting a local mask regulation be enacted. The city ordinance would give business owners cover when telling customers they must wear masks in those locations, he said.
In Eau Claire, both city and county elected officials are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to adopt mask-wearing regulations. The city and county currently lack existing mask orders after an attempt to adopt a public health ordinance in the fall failed.
The issue was contentious at that time, and City Council members and County Board supervisors said they’re receiving much input about the topic prior to Tuesday’s vote.
“We have been getting a lot of comments from people on both sides of this issue,” City Council member Kate Beaton said. “There is certainly a lot of interest in this topic.”
Likewise, Wausau city officials decided on Jan. 18 to extend a resolution through March 31 they adopted in November advising the wearing of masks in public in case Evers’ extension was done away with. City Council members felt that action was necessary to continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Katie Rosenberg said.
While the resolution does not allow for action against those ignoring it, Rosenberg said she believes guidance from the city convinces more people to wear masks and assists business owners with better enforcement.
The State Assembly on Thursday delayed an expected vote to reverse the most recent statewide mask extension order by Gov. Tony Evers after learning that action would result in the loss of $49 million in monthly federal FoodShare assistance to Wisconsin residents in need.
However, the Assembly is expected to revisit the mask regulation as soon as Tuesday, and some Wisconsin communities, like Wausau, have renewed previous actions supporting wearing masks in public in an effort to curb COVID-19 infections. If the statewide order is overturned, Wisconsin would be one of 10 states without statewide mask protections.
The Centers for Disease Control says research shows wearing masks is proven to protect against virus spread. Cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin have dropped significantly since statewide orders mandating their wearing in public places have occurred.
Even as more Wisconsin residents receive the COVID-19 vaccine protecting them from the virus, Rosenberg said she opposes rescinding the statewide mask mandate. Far too many people remain unvaccinated to lift mask safeguards, she said, without risking more infections and deaths.
“Wearing a mask is simply the right thing to do,” she said. “We want to make sure we continue to follow the science.”
Complying with CDC guidelines regarding mask wearing to reduce virus spread prompted the issuance last week of a local health advisory in La Crosse County recommending that people age 5 and older wear masks in public. The advisory also states that businesses should operate at no more than 50 percent of capacity.
Other county health officers across northwest Wisconsin said they back the wearing of masks in public, but local governments where they live aren’t proposing local measures to require face coverings. Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman said she lacks the ability to issue such an order under existing county ordinance.
“You can put a mask order out there, but if you can’t enforce it, does it really help?” she said, adding that she continues to recommend people wear masks in public locations and refrain from gatherings.
AZ Snyder, Pierce County Public Health director, urged people to wear masks in public even as a growing number receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Residents need to wear their masks, executive order or no,” she said. “If we don’t keep the masks on, we are increasing the chances of vulnerable people dying while waiting for the vaccine.”