News

County hopes to avoid mask ordinance

by Dan Colton
for The Beacon


As communities around Wisconsin consider mandating face coverings to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, the Sheboygan County Board chairman said a local ordinance may be adopted if area hospitals see a spike in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and are faced with being overwhelmed.

“As of right now, there is no ordinance written up,” said Chairman Vernon Koch. “We are looking at what point it would be prudent to consider mandating masks.”

Koch said he believes the board would rely on hospitals and county health officials to raise the alarm bells if beds become scarce.

“I think we need to have our partners at the hospitals to give a lot of input on this because at the end of the day … we need to avoid what happened in New York City earlier this year and what’s happening in Southern states right now.”

Koch said some businesses have already, or are planning to, require customers to wear masks when inside. If businesses take the lead on mandating masks, Koch said the county likely wouldn’t need to establish a law to require them.

However, cases of COVID-19 in Sheboygan County have been rising at a quickened pace this month. Active cases rose from 19 on July 1 to 108 cases on July 17. The first additional death in the county from COVID-19 since June 9 was reported July 17.

“We’ve almost tripled the number of cases in Sheboygan County in the last week or ten days or so, but the hospitalizations are still at one or two (cases),” Koch said. “While the case rate jumped a lot, it’s not creating pressure at this time on the hospitals.”

“We’re hoping to never have to mandate them,” Koch added, saying that an ordinance could be adopted and then triggered if hospitals predict bed shortages. “…That’s the component where we need the hospitals’ input on. Where is the tipping point?”

Wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is now mandatory in Wisconsin’s largest city. The Milwaukee Common Council voted 15-0 Monday in favor of an ordinance requiring masks in public spaces.

Anyone age 3 and older has to wear a face-covering in buildings open to the public, as well as any outdoor public space when it’s not possible to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from people who aren’t in the same household. There are exceptions for medical conditions or religious reasons.

The ordinance says the Milwaukee Health Department should fine businesses that don’t comply, but it doesn’t specify how outdoor spaces will be enforced.

Last week, Public Health Madison and Dane County issued an order requiring masks indoors. It took effect Monday.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he was considering a statewide mask mandate, but after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down his “safer at home” order in May, a new one requiring masks to be worn is “unlikely.”

The Associated Press contributed additional reporting to this story.

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