PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Alarmed by a spike in COVID-19 cases, Platteville Common Council members are considering mandating the wearing of face masks in public spaces.
The ordinance could apply to any form of public transportation or building open to the public, including city facilities and private businesses.
Council members this week instructed staff to draft an ordinance along with an alternative, nonbinding resolution that only encourages the wearing of masks.
Council members — at least four of whom were receptive to a mandate — will discuss both options at an upcoming meeting.
“A mask is about you not infecting someone else,” said Council President Barb Daus. “I would really like to believe that we would have enough respect for other people to wear a mask. That being said, I don’t see that.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, noting that when adopted universally in communities, all people gain protection.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services considers Grant County’s COVID-19 activity level high. The county has confirmed an average of six new COVID-19 cases daily over a 14-day period that ended on Tuesday.
More than 20 states have adopted some mask requirements. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has expressed interest in implementing a statewide mandate but said he is hesitant to do so following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s striking of his stay-at-home order in May.
To fill the vacuum, Wisconsin municipalities have enacted their own.
Wisconsin statute provides local governments with broad authority to enact ordinances to protect the health and safety of residents during a state of emergency, which is in effect in Platteville through Oct. 15.
Platteville council members examined the City of Whitewater’s ordinance, which requires the wearing of face masks inside a public or privately-owned structure that is accessible to the public, excluding residences. To enforce the order, police can issue municipal citations, with fines ranging from $10 to $150.
Those with medical conditions, younger than five years of age or whose religion prohibits them from wearing a face covering also are exempt.
Council Member Robin Cline said the tide of public opinion toward masks is changing, particularly as a growing list of retailers — including Blain’s Farm & Fleet, CVS, Menards, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — mandate that customers wear them.
“We’re required to wear shoes and shirts in public, and I think it’s reasonable to extend that to a mask in such times,” she added.
Council Member Isaac Shanley questioned whether the city would incur legal fees if an ordinance is challenged in court, while Council Member Kathy Kopp worried it might incite conflicts within the community.
“What about the people who physically cannot wear a mask?” she said. “How are they identified so they are not singled out or approached?”