Surgical masks

Dane County residents have had increased debate regarding the county’s mask mandate recently, as elected officials consider whether they should involve themselves in decisions of their public health department.

The controversy surrounding the necessity and effectiveness of face coverings began in July 2020, when Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) issued its first emergency order mandating that everyone age 5 and older wear a mask inside any enclosed building. It continued throughout the pandemic as health officials extended the face-covering requirement to those 2 and older.

The debate received renewed attention this fall, however, after three county supervisors introduced a resolution that would urge PHMDC to dismiss its current order “until public input and the consent of the governed has been achieved.”

Resolution 157 was introduced by Dane County supervisors Jeff Weigand (Marshall), Tim Rockwell (Sun Prairie) and Dave Ripp (Waunakee) in August. The sponsors argued that Public Health should conduct a public hearing and explain to members of the county board its reasoning for issuing an emergency public-health order and why it is needed at this time.

“The scientific facts that Public Health Madison and Dane County reviewed regarding the effectiveness of face covers is unknown,” the resolution stated. “It is also unknown what public input was sought or received from elected officials, schools, business, and the like. Prior to imposing government mandates, the Public Health Officer should hear the views of the residents of Dane County, explain the reasoning for an order to the County Board, and seek consensus from the Board and the general public.”

The resolution was referred to the joint public-health committee, which indefinitely postponed it in early December. Two of the resolution’s sponsors, Weigand and Rockwell, announced days later that they would hold their own public hearing on the mask mandate instead.

That forum took place Dec. 13, in the town of Berry.

Dozens of residents attended the hearing to voice opposition to the mandate, as well as some anti-maskers who lived outside the county but traveled to Dane County to take part in the discussion.

2022 Congressional candidate Charity Barry said though she resides in the county of Iowa, she spent most of her life growing up in Madison and sees the issue as one about personal freedom.

“This is America, and we should have our freedom and our rights,” Barry said, taking the opportunity to announce her upcoming candidacy. “The government overreach needs to stop. We need people like Jeff and Tim that will listen to what the people want and keep the government where it’s supposed to be.”

David Spooner, a 72-year-old cancer patient, said he recently underwent a bone-marrow transplant and was “the very face of someone who should follow the directives of the Dane County board.”

He opposed public health guidelines, however, due to what he saw as a lack of supporting evidence.

“Unelected Madison and Dane County public health officials have mandated regulations that are more restrictive than the rest of our state but have not provided data to justify them or criteria for ever ending them,” Spooner said. “The Draconian restrictions forced upon us regarding masks have no balance regarding their negative effects on our society.”

Dane County officials have agreed to consider Resolution 157, with a public hearing scheduled on the proposal Jan. 6. Waunakee-area supervisor Tim Kiefer noted that the proposal is a non-binding resolution and would have no legal effect on Public Health or its authority to issue emergency orders.

“The county board resolution cannot end the mask mandate,” Kiefer said. “State law is clear that the board lacks the legal authority to override public health orders. I have proposed changing this state law to give the county board more authority, but any future change to the state law would be up to the state legislature and governor.”

Kiefer encouraged residents to reach out with any questions or concerns regarding RES-157.

The supervisor can be reached at (608) 358-7213, or via e-mail at kiefer.timothy@countyofdane.com. “I want to listen to what everyone has to say before making a decision as to how I will vote on the resolution,” Kiefer said.

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