Mask up

The entire state of Wisconsin is currently under a mask mandate that went into effect Saturday morning at the order of Gov. Tony Evers. As such, masks must be worn in enclosed and indoor spaces with some exceptions. Local county sheriff’s departments are urging people to not call in individuals who are not complying with the order. However, if an altercation stems from a confrontation about masks, dispatch should be contacted for potential citations.

Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate went into effect Saturday after Emergency Order 1 was issued two days prior. The order declared a public health emergency as part of Executive Order 82 and required face coverings to be worn by people ages 5 and older when indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside of their household or living unit. People are also encouraged to wear masks outside if unable to practice social distancing.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn’t care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” said Evers in a statement Thursday. “We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives. While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what’s best for the people of our state, so that’s what I am going to do.”

Across the state, people are split over the governor’s issue with some applauding the decision and others feeling Evers has overstepped his boundaries. The state’s top elected official pushed out the order as Wisconsin reportedly has seen community spread of COVID-19 plus an increase in cases.

The day after the governor issued the mandate, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) was reported to indicate the Senate Republicans would take up the matter and work to overturn it.

But until any action against the order, sheriff’s departments across the state are making the determination how –and if – they plan to enforce the mandate.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jeff Parker said people are asked to not call 911 if someone is not following the order.

Similarly, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said individuals are not to contact the department to report a person not following the mandate.

“Dodge County Sheriff’s Deputies will not be responding to or investigating these incidents,” he said in a release.

Dane County, which has been under a mask order from Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) since July 13, also asks people to refrain from reporting people not wearing face coverings to the police or sheriff’s departments. According to a post on PHMDC’s website blog, the department will determine the best way to educate noncompliant individuals and businesses about the order before taking action to enforce it.

“Concerns and complaints about businesses can be emailed to compliance@publichealthmdc.com. This email address is not to be used to complain about individuals not wearing masks,” the PHMDC blog noted. “When we see businesses or individuals who continue to violate the Order despite our attempts to educate, enforcement will be necessary. Citations issued within the City of Madison amount to $376. If issued outside of Madison, under the County ordinance the ticket amount will be $263.50.”

Parker noted there are instances where a person may be unable to wear a face covering and are excluded from the mandate. Evers’ orders stated individuals with health conditions or disabilities precluding them to wear a mask are exempt from the order. Due to privacy concerns, those who fall under the exemptions are not required to show proof of their medical condition or disability. Additionally, coverings do not need to be worn when someone is eating, drinking or swimming.

Parker did say there may be instances where individuals who choose not to wear a mask may be cited for unlawful conduct such as an altercation that could lead to a battery charge or a trespassing complaint. The department will respond to those calls.

The chief deputy said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department will continue to utilize its community-oriented policing style to educate and warn the public about violations, which is similar to what the department did during the stay-at-home order.

“We encourage everyone to take precautions to keep themselves and others safe,” Schmidt said. “We also understand and recognize different viewpoints and we are doing everything we can to protect people from becoming sick, while also protecting the individual rights of our citizens.”

The mask order is slated to expire at the end of Sept. 28 or until a superseding order is announced.

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