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Kenosha City Council approves citywide face mask mandate to prevent COVID-19 spread
Kenosha City Council

Kenosha City Council approves citywide face mask mandate to prevent COVID-19 spread


People will now have to wear masks while spending time inside public places and businesses in the City of Kenosha in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The City Council, by a vote of 15-2 on Monday night, approved the ordinance following a public hearing and nearly an hour of deliberations. The 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 ridesharing would also be required to wear masks.

Voting in favor of the face covering requirement were aldermen Eric Haugaard, Bill Siel, Jan Michalski, Holly Kangas, Rocco LaMacchia, Shayna Griffin, Bruce Fox, Keith Rosenberg, Anthony Kennedy, Rollin Pizzala, Mitchell Pedersen, Curt Wilson, Daniel Prozanski, Jack Rose and David Bogdala.

Aldermen David Paff and Dominic Ruffalo cast dissenting votes.

The city’s requirement would remain in effect through March 31 and comes just as the state’s mandate for mask wearing is due to expire on Saturday.

Escalating cases, death toll

The city has been contemplating enacting its own mandatory mask ordinance since mid-September. When the ordinance was initially drafted on Sept. 15, Kenosha County had 3,179 confirmed cases along with 65 deaths due to the novel coronavirus.

Since then, the number of confirmed cases has more than doubled, to 7,711 as of Tuesday, and the death toll has risen 68%, to 109 as of Tuesday.

In proposing the ordinance, Siel said his intent was to provide a framework with the overall goal of “legitimizing and supporting face masks."

The latest ordinance, which underwent several reviews by city committees, also resulted in compromise. The previous version restricted businesses with 10 or more patrons or 50% of the their occupancy capacity to 6-foot spacing between tables.

The revised version allows businesses to limit the number of people on the premises to what is “strictly necessary" for operations and “to the greatest extent possible,” an opportunity to comply with 6-foot social distancing protocols between customers, employees and the public by, for instance, by rearranging furniture or office space.

“So the notion of providing that social distance, it’s still there along with a number of other safety measures,” Siel said.

The ordinance includes increasing standards for cleaning and disinfection of “high-touch” areas and the posting of signs for safe business practices, social distancing requirements, hand hygiene and etiquette for coughing and sneezing.

It limits fines to up to $250 for businesses not complying. Individuals may be fined from $25 to $100 for violations.

Ald. David Bogdala called the ordinance a “well-done compromise” that allows for police enforcement of verified complaints from licensed establishments and helps businesses “navigate during this very dangerous time.”

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“Let me say very clearly, masks are good,” Bogdala said. “Masks are not a political statement. I think what we hope to have here is some legitimacy to that, and I think that’s what this ordinance does.”

LaMacchia, who voted against an earlier version of the mask ordinance because of the space restrictions, said he supported the latest version.

“This version is better than the original one," he said. "It has teeth to it, but yet it still has some leeway where we can work with businesses and the health department and with the police department."

Uneven 'playing field'

Ruffalo, who is recovering from COVID-19, said he is against the ordinance, as his district is in an area that borders Pleasant Prairie, Somers, Bristol and Paris. He said because those areas do not have mask ordinances, it gives the businesses there an unfair advantage.

“I’m all for wearing masks, but this doesn’t put anybody on an even playing field,” said Ruffalo, whose district includes the Brat Stop and Mars Cheese Castle, two major tourist attractions.

Paff said the fact that the council is voting on the ordinance already “makes it political.” In voting against it, he said the state is already under a mandate to wear masks and the county health department has already recommended wearing them, as well as social distancing.

Paff said he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and in doing so supported the right to self-determination, adding that the ordinance would infringe upon individual freedoms.

“Many people in my district feel this way,” he said.

Protecting the public

Earlier, Prozanski said the council has had to consider ordinances that banned texting while driving and jumping into the water off the city’s north pier, local laws to protect public welfare and safety.

“Implementing a mask ordinance in the City of Kenosha, is to some — and you may never convince them that it’s not taking away their rights — but, you know, we’re protecting the rights of so many others,” he said, including the right not to contract the coronavirus.

Wilson, who co-sponsored the original ordinance, praised Siel and Bogdala for working together on a successful compromise. He criticized the Republican-led state Legislature, however, which has litigated executive orders by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers that have been intended to halt the virus’ spread.

“We would not be in this situation had the Republican leadership in Madison ... done their job and worked with our governor to try and make all citizens of this state a hell of a lot safer,” Wilson said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Legislature's steps to address the COVID spread.

“Let me say very clearly, masks are good. Masks are not a political statement. I think what we hope to have here is some legitimacy to that and I think that’s what this ordinance does.”

Alderman David Bogdala

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