PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Platteville Common Council members on Tuesday for the second time in recent months postponed a decision to enact an ordinance that would mandate the wearing of face masks within city limits to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The unanimous decision to table the proposal came after a Wisconsin judge declined earlier this week to issue an injunction in a lawsuit challenging a statewide mask order.
Instead, the city will continue to rely upon voluntary compliance, keeping the ordinance in the city’s pocket for later consideration.
“I’m in favor of letting the businesses decide whether they would like to have people wear a mask in their business or not,” said Council Member Isaac Shanley. “People themselves can choose whether they go to a business that requires face coverings.”
Declining to enact a city mandate precludes the Platteville Police Department from enforcing the state order through its citation or arrest powers. Rather, cases must be referred to the Grant County District Attorney’s Office.
But some Platteville residents observe that rising caseloads in the city and Grant County are indicators that the city’s hands-off approach is not working.
“With Platteville being one of the top 10 hot spots in Wisconsin, I think something should be done,” said Garry Prohaska.
The number of new infections in Grant County remains high — with an average of 30 new daily cases reported within the past two weeks — but they are less concentrated in Platteville than they were in September.
In the two-week period ending Tuesday, 29% of new cases had a Platteville address compared to the 14-day period that ended Sept. 28, where 64% had a Platteville address, according to the Grant County Health Department.
Mounting scientific evidence indicates that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and that the wearing of face masks significantly reduces person-to-person spread of the virus.
But mask orders have emerged as community flashpoints across the tri-state region and beyond. Platteville residents, likewise, are divided over the issue.
Of the community members who offered feedback in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, 44 registered against the ordinance, while 39 favored it.
Platteville residents submitted a petition in September, with more than 500 signatories, expressing support for an order. Likewise, University of Wisconsin-Platteville leaders and the institution’s Student Senate have urged the council to enact a mask ordinance.
However, several people said Tuesday the matter should be left for business owners and residents to decide.
“The reality is people can make a decision for themselves and their family as to whether they want to put themselves in harm’s way by going into a public space,” said Platteville resident Mike North. “That’s their choice, and we need to leave it that way.”
City officials passed a resolution in August that encouraged but did not mandate the communitywide wearing of masks and have relied upon voluntary compliance with a state mandate issued by Gov. Tony Evers that same month.
The governor later extended the order until Nov. 21, but it is being challenged in court.
The proposed ordinance would have temporarily mandated mask-wearing within publicly accessible indoor spaces or at city events, enforced by Platteville police, who could issue municipal citations to violators.
After providing a warning, fines would range from $10 to $40 for a first offense and $50 to $150 for subsequent infractions.
Those with medical conditions, younger than 5 years of age or whose religion prohibits them from wearing a face covering would be exempt. People also would not be required to wear masks when receiving certain medial services or when consuming food and beverages.
Language was struck from the proposed ordinance that also would have fined owners of establishments who failed to enforce the mandate.
The city’s attorney and League of Wisconsin Municipalities have advised that the city is within its authority to enact a mask requirement.