A Kenosha City Council member has called for an early sunset to the local mask ordinance following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling against the state’s previously mandated face-covering order that had been set to expire on Monday.
The state’s highest court ruled Friday that Gov. Tony Evers had exceeded his authority by issuing multiple emergency orders that included the face-covering law in response to what the court said was essentially the same emergency order.
The court’s 4-3 majority ruled that Wisconsin law gave Evers extraordinary powers for only a short period of time — in this case, 60 days — after his initial public health emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic last year and, in effect, Evers had overstepped his authority.
Ald. Rocco LaMacchia said the court’s ruling — along with businesses already having the right to impose their own face covering requirement (or not) and more people receiving the vaccine against virus — makes him comfortable in proposing the repeal of the city’s ordinance sooner rather than later.
Kenosha’s ordinance, currently in effect through May 27, requires that anyone over the age of 5 wear masks while spending time inside public places and businesses in the city in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At Monday night’s council meeting, LaMacchia’s proposal was a last-minute addition to a list of issues Mayor John Antaramian referred to city committees. The proposed repeal was sent to the Public Safety and Welfare Committee to be discussed at its April 12 session. LaMacchia is the committee chair.
“I’m going forward with it,” he said. “It’s not our (place) to tell people to wear masks. It’s private sector business’ (place) to tell people.
Not ‘city’s right’
“If I go to Lowes or Menards and they tell me I have to wear a mask, they have every right to do that,” LaMacchia said. “I don’t think it’s the city’s right to say you have to wear a mask. And, since the state now doesn’t have an ordinance, why do we have to have one?”
LaMacchia said he believes that given the Supreme Court’s ruling he not only has the will of the people on his side, but possibly the votes at the council level.
“This is why I’m doing this … especially, now, with the governor losing before the (state) Supreme Court.”
Kenosha’s ordinance requires employees of businesses within the city and their customers to wear face coverings. Those awaiting rides on public transportation or riding in taxis, private care service or ride sharing are also required to wear masks.
LaMacchia said he’d like to see the ordinance repealed at least three weeks sooner than the May 27 sunset. Because it must go through a committee hearing and two readings, a process that lasts about a month, the earliest the council could vote on his proposal would be May 3.
“I think we’ve got to get back to normalcy the best we can,” he said.
Ordinance remains in effect Ald. Bill Siel originally proposed extending the city’s mask-wearing ordinance from its March 31 sunset date to July 31 before arriving at the May compromise. He has said that his stance from the beginning was to create an ordinance locally because of the uncertainty of how the politics of the state’s mandate would play out at the legislative and judiciary levels.
In November, the City Council voted 15-2 to establish the mask ordinance and then extended it through May 27 on a 14-3 vote last month.
“We did our part in passing our ordinance,” Siel said. “I don’t believe the State Supreme Court’s decision changes the validity of the legislative process that we conducted.”
Siel said he would like to think the rationale for rescinding the ordinance would be based upon “a real changing of the landscape concerning the pandemic.”
“I know Kenosha County’s experience is very different (now) than what it was back in November,” he said, praising the county’s efforts to increase vaccination rates. “It’s one of the best in the country and our state. And, Kenosha County is at the front of that.”
Virus not beaten yet
At the same time, said Siel, the virus hasn’t been beaten yet.
“I guess I would just urge a little more caution and patience,” he said. He added it’s possible that, in a month as the discussions wind their way through the city process, there would be more timely data that can be considered.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision last week, a number of municipalities and agencies throughout the state have adopted face covering ordinances or issued health advisories continuing the use of masks to combat the spread of COVID-19, Siel said.
“They’ve decided, like we did, to draw a line of defense in the interest of the public’s safety,” he said.
Ald. David Bogdala, who brokered the May 27 compromise, said he based his decision on the available data. The same would be true whether to consider repealing the ordinance, he said.
“I think we have to look at the data to see where we’re at,” he said. “At the end of the day … we’re going to be pretty close with (herd immunity) numbers, but think we have to see where the numbers are and where we go from there at that point,” he said.
According to the county Division of Health, in order to achieve the “herd immunity” necessary to protect against the spread of COVID-19, at the minimum, 127,500 residents need to be vaccinated, or 75 percent of Kenosha County’s population.
Herd immunity occurs when a significant portion of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, thus decreasing the transmission risk from person to person. Furthermore, those not immune become protected indirectly because ongoing disease spread in a community has been minimized.
Vaccines – the way out
As of Monday, 19.6 percent or 33,175 residents were “fully vaccinated” (two vaccine doses). In the county, 31.1% percent or 52,703 residents have had at least the first of the two-part COVID-19 vaccine dosage.
“Kenosha County is doing an outstanding job on vaccinations. I think that’s important to highlight,” he said.
At the time Bogdala proposed the compromise, the county had been averaging about 6,200 vaccinations per week, a number that has since risen about 10,000 per week, he said. “We’re a month away and there’s still a lot of vaccinations that need to happen.,” Bogdala said. “I think our job is to push the vaccine, to remind people that it’s safe and effective and the more people we can get vaccinated as quick as we can – that’s our way out of this.”