Noah’s Ark general manager fired after criticizing health officials’ response to “phantom china virus”
The general manager at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells has been fired after criticizing a potential mask mandate to stop the “phantom china virus” in an email to local health officials.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The general manager at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells has been fired after criticizing a potential mask mandate to stop the “phantom china virus” in an email to local health officials.
General manager Mark Whitfield told Sauk County health department officials in an email on July 20 that he should not have to wear a mask, not only because he had a medical condition and a “religious problem with it,” but that no one had died from the “phantom china (sic) virus” since March in Sauk County.
Whitfield continued in the email that the tourism industry would collapse if the Sauk County Board of Supervisors issued a potential mask mandate, in an effort to curb spiraling COVID-19 numbers mid-summer.
Noah’s Ark’s former manager further called the Sauk County Health Officer Tim Lawther a “liar” who should be fired. Whitfield claimed Lawther didn’t know what businesses were doing to prevent the “china virus,” even though Whitfield claims Dells resorts informed the health department of their COVID-19 safety measures.
In the wake of that email, Noah’s Ark issued a statement announcing that their general manager, Whitfield, had been fired from the resort. TMJ4-TV in Milwaukee first reported on Whitfield’s email and his eventual firing.
According to a statement from Bill Lentz, vice president of Water Parks, Palace Entertainment, which owns Noah’s Ark:
“Noah’s Ark and Palace Entertainment commit to comply with local, state and federal guidelines, and support our local leaders as they serve the public health needs of the community. The emailed comments do not reflect the views of Noah’s Ark Waterpark or Palace Entertainment, and the person who made them is no longer employed with us.”
NBC15 asked an expert on free speech to weigh in. Howard Schweber, a political science professor with the University of Wisconsin School of Law, said this case shows the limits of free speech protections.
The First Amendment does not apply here, he said, because it does not involve the government restricting speech.
“Really, in this case, it looks much more like he was saying something his company disapproved of,” Schweber said. “They thought he was creating a bad public impression of them. The issue of wearing masks is, of course, highly politicized and very sensitive. Companies are sensitive about public image.”
As of Friday, Sauk County has confirmed 262 positive COVID-19 cases, three deaths and has tested 10,443 cases since Wisconsin DHS began tracking.
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