A proposed ordinance that will require people to wear masks while spending time inside public places and businesses in Kenosha was approved by a city committee. It is headed to the City Council for a vote next month.
Following a public hearing and deliberations, the Public Safety and Welfare Committee on Monday night approved the proposal. It will require employees of businesses and their customers to wear face masks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Voting against the proposal was committee chair Ald. Rocco LaMacchia. If approved, the city mandate would expire March 31.
“Not wearing one in a public place — restaurants, any sort of public building, a business, museum, City Hall, etc.” — would constitute non-compliance, said Ald. Bill Siel, who answered questions from committee member Ald. Eric Haugaard.
Masks would not have to be worn while in between bites of food or when drinking a beverage, Siel said. Nor is the ordinance intended to enhance penalties for existing laws. In other words, a person would not be required to show proof of possessing a mask if pulled over by police, added Siel, who proposed the ordinance.
In addition, businesses with 10 or more patrons or 50 percent of the business’s occupancy capacity would be required to provide seating that would be spaced at least 6 feet apart between parties. The revised proposal limits fines to up to $250 for businesses not complying, reduced from $500 in an earlier version.
During discussions, LaMacchia asked how police would enforce the ordinance.
“You guys have a lot of other things to worry about. How enforceable is this?” he asked. “Let’s be realistic.”
Assistant Police Chief Eric Larsen said he understands the ordinance to pertain to enforcement of licensed premises, such as taverns and restaurants.
Exempted from mask wearing would be children 5 years or younger, those who fall under existing exemptions as established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for medical and mental health conditions and those with developmental disabilities covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Last month, the committee deferred the matter for a month to monitor the status of COVID-19 infections, including new cases and deaths, in order to gauge whether the virus was surging locally and statewide.
Fourth in new cases
Citing White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Deborah Birx’s visit to Madison last week, Siel noted Wisconsin’s status as fourth in the nation for new virus cases per 100,000 residents. During that same visit, both State Assembly Speaker, Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and state Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, met with Birx, and the legislators shared her concerns for the rapid spread of the virus, Siel said.
Vos had urged the public to follow CDC protocols for wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing and to follow local restrictions.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as of Tuesday afternoon, 206,311 confirmed cases have been reported, with 1,852 deaths due to COVID-19. The state’s seven-day average of confirmed new cases on Monday was 3,779, Siel said, an 80 percent jump since the committee met a month ago.
In Kenosha County as of Monday, there had been 624 identified cases over the previous seven days and 132 new cases over the previous 24 hours. The number of local deaths was at 76 as of Tuesday afternoon.
The City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Nov. 16, Siel said, less than a week before a state-mandated mask ordinance expires Nov. 21. With the court rulings on the state emergency order restricting indoor public gatherings to 25 percent of a building’s or room’s capacity (10 people in places without occupancy limits) in flux, he said the council must support what “many businesses and many major retailers, locally owned businesses and public places are currently following.”
“I just think it legitimizes what has been and continues to be the best methods we have at our disposal to minimize the spread of this virus,” Siel said.
LaMacchia said he understands the committee’s role in protecting the public and believes the state is doing its best to control the spread of the coronavirus.
“But I don’t think we have to one-up what the state is trying to do,” he said.
LaMacchia said he has a problem with having to wear a mask while walking just 6 feet to his table at a restaurant.
“Show me the rationality behind that. Tell me how I can sit there for two-and-a-half hours, have my meal, a couple cocktails and not have my mask on, but I have to wear it for 6 feet?” LaMacchia said. “This is where my problem lies. You either jump in head-first or you don’t jump in at all.”
At a public hearing held last month, residents said they opposed yet another government restriction requiring mask wearing. Some argued a local mandate would violate constitutional rights, traumatize children and serve as disincentives to already struggling businesses, forcing them to leave Kenosha altogether.
No one from the public spoke at Monday night’s hearing.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.