August 1, a statewide mask-mandate issued by Gov. Tony Evers went into effect. The newest order from Evers attracted both praise and opposition from residents, law enforcement and state leaders and is set to run through September 28.
Masks and other forms of face coverings are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), and healthcare professionals as a way to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the them coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice.
Rates of COVID-19 have increased in Wisconsin. As of Monday, Aug. 3, Polk County’s totally number of confirmed positive cases since the beginning of totaling, had reached 120. St. Croix County was at 447; Pierce was at 170, Dunn 105, Barron 255 and Burnett 14.
According to the DHS, wearing face coverings is a way to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus without requiring people stay in their homes.
What does the new mandate really mean? You need to wear a face covering whenever you are indoors or in an enclosed space, other than a private residence and when other people are present in the same room or space. For example, you must wear a mask while you are shopping in a store or using public transportation.
You do not need to wear a face covering if you are at a private residence, you are outside or if you are indoors and no one else is present.
You can also remove your face covering in the following situations: When you are eating or drinking, while swimming or being on duty as a lifeguard, when you are giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation for an audience, so long as you have at least 6 feet between you and other individuals, when you are communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and you cannot communicate while wearing a mask and when you need to temporarily remove your face covering to confirm your identify, such as entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution or when having to show that you match your identification card when buying alcohol.
Like with many things in life, there seems to be some gray areas, concerning times of exercising and at what point one should wear or remove while at a bar or restaurant.
If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you are not required to carry documentation to prove that you do not need to wear a face covering in public.
Not included with masks in the mandate are face shields. The mandate says you are free to wear a face shield in addition to a face covering, but a face shield cannot be used in place of a face covering that would otherwise be required by this order. There may be situations where a face shield can be used instead of a face covering if you are engaging in work where wearing a face covering would create a risk to you, as determined by government safety guidelines, or if you are engaging in activities where federal or state law or regulations prohibit wearing a face covering.
Businesses will not be required to provide face coverings for their employees or customers, but many businesses have decided on their own to offer them.
In terms of the mandate being enforced, the state asks individuals to refrain from questioning why someone is not wearing a mask. Some people have conditions or circumstances that would make wearing a cloth face covering difficult or dangerous. State officials said no one should have to endure harassment, for any reason. Contact your local law enforcement if you feel you are being harassed about face coverings.
The Governor’s order sets a minimum bar. If your local government has stricter requirements pertaining to face coverings, those requirements must be followed.
Violations can carry a $200 fine. However, several law enforcement agencies around the state have said they won't actively enforce the mandate.
Sheriff’s offices in Grant, Dodge, Lafayette and Washburn counties were the first to advise residents in their communities that for various reasons each, they can’t or won’t enforce the order.
“My deputies have sworn an oath to the Constitution, and when a law or order is in conflict, we must defend the individual rights of our people,” Washburn County Sheriff Stuart said. “You have an individual right to make your own medical decisions. We as government officials shall not intrude. The Constitution can’t be suspended, whether people get sick or not.”
Stuart continued, “The Washburn County Sheriff’s Department will not participate in any enforcement in regards to the wearing of masks. We believe it is government overreach and unconstitutional on many levels.”
Within the following days, numerous other Wisconsin County sheriff’s released statements including Polk County Sheriff Brent Waak, “The Polk County Sheriff’s Office will not take any enforcement action with regards to Governor Evers' Order 82-mask mandate. I encourage all citizens to continue to stay healthy and utilize the best practices to combat this virus.”
The St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department released the following statement, “Governor Evers has released an Executive Order regarding the wearing of face coverings in certain situations as a result of the public health crisis. This topic has divided so many in our communities for different reasons. However, let me share my position from the public safety standpoint while recognizing that this is a serious health concern.
“There is a difference between public safety and public health. Our deputies have a myriad of duties and situations to respond to. Many of these are centered around protecting the safety of the public, and to investigate crimes and arrest criminals. This virus is a public health concern, and I feel should be left to public health officials. Public safety duties include investigating crimes, responding to crashes and tending to victims, assisting at medical calls, dealing with those in mental health crisis and domestic situations. From a practical standpoint and with limited staff resources, having law enforcement respond to investigate someone not wearing a mask (where the penalty is a civil forfeiture, not a crime), removes deputies from doing what the citizens look for us to do. Calling 911 to report mask violations may also have unintended consequences of tying up emergency dispatch lines.
“While this public health crisis impacts each one of us differently, I encourage every citizen to look out for and respect the wishes of those who may be most at risk to this virus.
“While the governor likely has noble intentions, the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office will continue to focus on crimes and public safety offenses, as opposed to seeking out or responding to complaints about those without face coverings.”