Kewaunee County leaders unsure of some aspects of state face mask order
KEWAUNEE – Local officials had unsure reactions to Gov. Tony Evers' emergency order requiring people to wear face coverings or masks when in indoor and enclosed spaces from Saturday through Sept. 28.
Issued Thursday, Evers' order mandates those ages 5 and older to wear coverings over their noses and mouths if they're in an enclosed space, other than a private residence, and with people who are not household members. It also strongly recommends face coverings "in all other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing." It also provides exceptions for various reasons, such as when eating or swimming or for those with related medical conditions.
The order comes in the wake of a surge of positive test results for the COVID-19 virus across the state over the past few weeks. Among other justifications, it notes that President Donald Trump's COVID-19 task force recommended July 26 the state implement a statewide face covering mandate to help combat the surge. Thirty-three other states have similar requirements in place.
The requirement met with the approval of Cindy Kinnard, director of the Kewaunee County Public Health Department and a registered nurse. The county has experienced a rise in positive COVID-19 tests, and percentage of tests coming back positive, in July, with 46% its total (49 of 107) being reported during the month.
"Masking up is one important thing people can do to protect the community," Kinnard said.
But some aspects of the order were a concern for County Board Chairman Daniel Olson, although he said he'd just received the order when contacted by the Kewaunee County Star-News and hadn't had the chance to fully digest it.
Olson wondered if schools or places of worship were among the exemptions, although they're not mentioned in the order — Olson is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Montpelier and administrator of its school. An FAQ accompanying the order clarified that those giving a religious or educational presentation, among a list of other actions, would be allowed to remove their mask.
He also questioned the effect it would have in the county at this point because a number of stores and shops implemented their own mask requirements within the past few weeks. That's part of the reason Olson said he wasn't discussing a county mandate for masks with Kinnard and other county officials, as some other counties (including neighboring Door) and larger cities have ordered.
"My intention was to leave (wearing a mask) up to the individual to decide," Olson said. "My impression is most businesses are already requiring it, anyway. … So, I'm not sure how much effect the order will have on the local level."
How the order will be enforced, and who will enforce it, also was a concern of Olson's, who called the language regarding enforcement "pretty broad." The order calls for a fine of $200, which would be a civil forfeiture, and the FAQ says local or state authorities may be responsible to enforce it.
Sheriff Matt Joski said he's worried that his department will be inundated with calls reporting people who aren't wearing masks where they're supposed to, especially if the non-masked people have medical reasons for it. A post on the sheriff's department Facebook page says it likely would not be able to respond to every report because of limited resources.
"The one thing I want to make sure of is, we don't get into a culture where everyone is reporting people (for not wearing masks)," Joski told the Star-News. "People have got to realize that some individuals are not able to wear a mask. We don't want people to take it upon themselves to turn into face mask vigilantes."
Joski added that if people are in a place where others aren't wearing masks and it makes them uncomfortable, they should utilize social distancing as best as they can.
He also said those who have medical reasons to not wear a mask should be mentally and emotionally prepared to be challenged, and those who come across such people show understanding. The FAQ from the state says people who are being harassed for not wearing a mask and have legitimate reasons should contact local law enforcement.
"Overall, I think the big thing is, everyone should just use common sense," Joski said. "I'm optimistic. I have faith in our community."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County leaders unsure of some aspects of state face mask order