Residents seek mask ordinance
Waupaca watching court cases
By Angie Landsverk
City of Waupaca officials are watching how mask ordinances play out in other Wisconsin communities as some area residents ask the city to enact one here.
“We are currently working through the topic of a mask ordinance by having conversations amongst a couple alderpersons, the mayor, myself and legal counsel,” City Administrator Aaron Jenson told the Waupaca County Post. “At this point we are just continuing to research the idea so we understand our footing from a legal standpoint.”
He noted cases are being heard elsewhere in the state about the topic.
The city’s legal counsel is watching them move through the process as the city has its conversations, he said.
“Legal questions are not the only aspect to this, but they are certainly important ones that we want to be sure to fully understand,” Jenson said.
He said it is hard to say how the process may evolve.
It is unclear what the city can and cannot do, Jenson said.
“In the meantime, we are continuing to have these same conversations with county Public Health as there appears to be less gray area when public health departments make such orders,” he said.
In Dane County, an indoor face mask requirement began Monday.
People do not have to wear them in their homes.
On Monday, Milwaukee’s common council unanimously approved an ordinance that requires people to wear masks in public spaces while the city’s COVID-19 health order is in place.
The city plans to provide free masks for residents.
Chuck Reynolds lives in rural Waupaca and recently visited Denver, where there is a mask requirement.
“It’s not a big deal. It’s a non-issue,” Reynolds told Waupaca’s common council when it met on July 7.
He was among the handful of people who spoke on the topic – either in person that evening or through submitted emails.
The comments were made during the public input portion of the agenda.
Masks mandated at city meetings
Those who attend public meetings at City Hall are required to wear masks.
There is physical distancing in the council chambers with space for elected officials, department heads and the media.
Some council members continue to attend meetings virtually.
Lower-level meeting rooms are being used for members of the public who attend meetings.
Masks are required in the public library, as well as in the senior center.
What area businesses are requiring of customers during the COVID-19 pandemic varies.
Reynolds noted that when he spoke.
Marketing public health
If a mask ordinance is too much to ask for, he asked the city to consider a marketing campaign about how to keep people safe, particularly those who are most vulnerable, as well as their caregivers.
The city posts information on its website and Facebook page about COVID-19 symptoms, and also encourages people to practice physical distancing and wear cloth face coverings when in public.
Kari Esbensen brought that up when she spoke.
“I applaud members of the city staff for the educational outreach to the community,” she said.
She watched the video the city released just prior to the July 4 holiday.
Recognizing the number of tourists in the area, Reynolds suggested having COVID-19 safe zones.
These would be public gathering spaces or businesses where visitors would expect to see everyone wearing masks, he said.
Maybe it could be a portion of a restaurant.
Reynolds said it would provide opportunities for those concerned about their health or protecting their loved ones to feel safe going to those places.
He also brought up how some Waupaca retailers are being harassed for wearing masks or requiring customers wear them.
Reynolds wondered if the city already has an ordinance related to harassment.
Esbensen’s husband is a family practice physician in Waupaca.
She described the current situation in Waupaca County as a “looming crisis.”
Education plays a role, but people also need to act, Esbensen said.
Waupaca County has been a “high activity” county for a few weeks.
Esbensen said her husband is especially concerned about the upcoming regular influenza season, along with COVID-19.
She also planned to approach the county with a request for a mask requirement for those visiting businesses and public spheres throughout the county.
“We do this out of love for our city and our neighbors and not wanting to see our health care system overwhelmed,” Esbensen said.
One of her daughters also spoke.
Sophia Butkiewicz said she falls within the 19-24 age group where there have been a growing number of cases.
She shared her sense of fear and said there needs to be a stronger message in the community.
“Please enact city-wide mask wearing and social distancing,” Butkiewicz said.
Jenson also read a couple written statements he received.
One was from a couple who said they support a mask requirement.
They wrote how they are increasingly shopping online.
One resident asked the city to not approve such an ordinance, saying there is conflicting information about wearing masks and how it is difficult for those with breathing issues to wear them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who do not live in their household, especially when it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
The CDC says cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading it to others.
The agency says the coverings should not be worn by children under age of 2 or by those who have trouble breathing, are unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove the mask without help.