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Mask mandate ruling puts onus on local health departments

Some Wisconsin counties do not have their own mask orders in place.
Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 6:58 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned the statewide mask mandate, leaving decisions on face covering ordinances up to officials on the local level.

Sauk County does not have a mask order in place and officials there say they’ve been relying on the state mandate to aid in mitigating coronavirus spread.

“People are tired of hearing the same thing and want to get their lives back to normal and public health is in the middle of it saying we’re not ready yet,” said Treemanisha Stewart, Sauk County Public Health Director and Officer.

Stewart says she does not have the authority to issue a county mask order so right now, it’s up to individuals and businesses to decide how to handle face coverings.

“It’s very much challenging when other counties have a little more leeway,” said Stewart.

NBC15 reached out to several businesses in Sauk City to find out their plans moving forward. Many said they have yet to decide if they’ll require customers to wear face coverings moving forward.

A manager at one local pub said they’ve been following guidance from public health from the beginning and say they will likely continue to do so, while another business, a bakery across the street, said they’ve never required customers to wear masks.

Sauk County Public Health officials say without health orders from the state level, it leaves room for confusion.

“People still travel from county to county and wonder why one area is doing one thing and one isn’t doing another,” said Stewart. “It makes it confusing and hard to have a consistent message.”

Gov. Tony Evers responded to the ruling, saying he’s disappointed.

“It’s disappointing because clearly the science is such that wearing a mask is something really important in order to mitigate this disease,” he said. The governor also stated he feels the decision is “legally wrong”.

Evers is encouraging Wisconsinites to continue to mask up. A message being echoed across many county health departments including Rock County which has its own mask order that will stay in effect.

“We do feel this mask order is still important in controlling the spread of the virus in Rock County,” said Jessica Turner of Rock Co. Public Health.

Turner says vaccinations provide hope but precautions still need to be taken until a larger amount of people are vaccinated.

“There has been a more contagious variant of the virus identified in Rock County and we’re seeing a slight increase in people testing positive so wearing a mask is still really important,” she said.

Health officials on state and local levels continue to encourage wearing masks, including the CDC. The only exception would be in a private setting where everyone is fully vaccinated. A person isn’t considered “fully” vaccinated until two weeks after completing their vaccination series.

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