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Rock Co. issues its own mask mandate

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 3:17 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 10:21 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers go back and forth on the future of the statewide mask mandate, Rock Co. has gone ahead and issued its own emergency order requiring face coverings.

In issuing the order, the health department cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which described cloth face coverings as “one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus. Interim health officer Michelle Bailey said the county has averaged 50 new COVID-19 cases every day since the start of the year, and hospitals still report they are near or at capacity.

The order nearly every individual over the age of five to wear a mask if the following conditions are met:

  1. The individual is in an enclosed space that is not a private residence, and
  2. Another person who is not a member of their household is in the same room or space.

The order does contain exceptions and exemptions similar to other ones issued across Wisconsin.

Masks will not be required when eating or drinking, sleeping or swimming, communicating with someone who is hard of hearing, during certain speaking occasions, and when it would create a risk to the person, among other exceptions.

People who have trouble breathing or are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering are exempted from the order, as are those with medical conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, or other sensory sensitivities. Prisoners also are not required to wear face coverings.

The order is set to expire on May 5, barring the issuance of a superseding order by the Rock Co. Public Health Officer.

On Thursday afternoon, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a Senate resolution that would repeal Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order that included a statewide mask mandate. Top Republicans said they expected to sign off on the measure, officially repealing the order, on Friday. However, less than two hours after the Assembly vote, Evers issued a new emergency order and followed it up with a re-issuance of the executive order that mandated face coverings.

Bailey launched the county’s first mask order within the next half hour, explaining, “just in case it doesn’t last long again this time, in case it’s immediately repealed again. We don’t want to be doing this every day.”

Regardless of what happens on the state level, regarding the repeal, this order would remain in effect - as would the one already in place in Dane Co. and any others imposed by local governments.

Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi applauded Bailey’s move, saying he has urged other counties to make similar decisions.

“Aside from a vaccine probably the most effective tool we have for reducing the spread of COVID-19 is a mask. Everyone agrees with that. The science backs it up. So why wouldn’t we do it?” Parisi said.

Bailey said her decision came out of the “bravery and courageousness” from her team. “We believe it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

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