By Shereen Siewert
Clark County officials this week launched a reporting platform for violations to Wisconsin’s statewide order requiring face coverings when indoors or in an enclosed space, the first area county to do so.
Health officials in Clark County will monitor the platform and follow up on complaints received.
Residents are sharply divided over the statewide order, which went into effect Aug. 1. Dozens of Marathon County business owners say they won’t comply, given that Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks asked that residents not call the communications center to report mask mandate issues.
In a lengthy Facebook post addressing the issue, Parks said that “criminal and destructive riot acts have not resulted in a spike in virus cases” and that he is committed to upholding rights under the Constitution.
“We are surrounded daily by many infectious diseases,” Parks wrote. “As a society, we consume products that are not healthy. We abuse substances that are detrimental to our health with no order directing us to stop. We operate equipment and vehicles, which can be deadly. We are provided advice and guidelines on each of these, but individuals choose what they will follow and why. This is why even those who despise America, strive to be here, because of the individual freedoms we share. The United States Constitution is the foundation this Nation was built on. It was drafted to preserve the rights our forefathers were seeking. I am committed to protecting those inalienable rights for we have no other recourse but to do just that.”
The Wausau Police Department took a different stance, pledging to follow Evers’ order and encouraging compliance.
“Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul recently stated his belief that local law enforcement have an education role in this matter,” a Wausau Police Department Facebook post reads. “When obvious violations are occurring, the Wausau Police Department will educate individuals, encourage compliance, and provide access to masks as we are able.
“Contacting law enforcement dispatchers regarding concerns over individuals not wearing masks should be avoided unless some type of overt disturbance is occurring. Wausau PD staff will be following Governor Evers’ order. We encourage citizens to comply as well, and continue to be respectful of others.”
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Enforcing the order remains a murky issue, four days after the mandate went into effect. Parks, in his Facebook post, said he is awaiting a decision by the Wisconsin Attorney General to determine if the recent mask mandate will be a law enforcement action or a Health Department function.
Marathon County Health Department Public Information Officer Judy Burrows, in an email to Wausau Pilot & Review, said her department is working with the Marathon County District Attorney and local law enforcement to address problems as they arise. A Marathon County reporting tool for violations has not been established.
“Concerns about violations can be directed to the health department on Monday (through) Friday during business hours,” Burrows said.
Some business owners have posted signs on the door or on their Facebook pages that let customers know they won’t enforce the mandate.
“If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, you don’t need to wear one,” the sign reads. “If you are not wearing one, we will assume this is the case. Due to HIPAA, and the Fourth Amendment, we will not ask you about your condition.”
But experts around the country say HIPPA doesn’t apply to businesses, nor does asking about a mask potentially violate the Fourth Amendment.
Burrows said the Health Department’s primary intention is to educate the public on the need and benefit to wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“This is an easy and effective strategy to prevent the spread of disease and has been used by medical professional for decades,” Burrows said. “This simple action can help get kids back to school and keep business open.”
Wisconsin is one of 33 states with a mask order in place.