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Politics over practicalities

As the Wisconsin Legislature continues to play politics with public health, local leaders must step up and take action to impose local mask rules.

County Board members should enact their own ongoing mask rule for public spaces and commercial buildings until a larger rollout of vaccinations occurs and the pandemic is contained at the local level. While ideally this would take place at the county or regional level, if the county is unwilling to impose a county-wide rule, then city and municipal boards would stand up and enact local rules for their communities. Such rules would maintain the status quo and provide support for businesses and work places who are serious about stopping the spread of COVID-19 and protecting their front-line employees.

Last summer, Gov. Tony Evers issued an emergency order requiring people to wear face coverings indoors and when social distancing is not possible. The order came following research showing that COVID-19 is primarily spread through hitching rides on microscopic water droplets that are expelled as people breathe, cough, talk, sing or sneeze.

When worn correctly, the masks work. They work to reduce the spread of the virus to those around them and work to keep schools, businesses and industry running. The trade-off is that masks can be uncomfortable, cause your glasses to fog up and make it impossible to read lips. For a small number of people who live with claustrophobia or have severe breathing difficulties, the masks may pose medical problems or lead to elevated anxiety. The governor’s order has always waived these individuals and any local orders should do likewise.

After sitting on their hands for months and doing nothing but complaining about the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators are attempting to make up for lost time by seeking to assert their authority. Last week the Senate approved a resolution overturning the state of emergency and ending the statewide mask mandate. The Assembly came close to doing the same thing, until leaders realized there are consequences for actions in the form of severing necessary support for those in most need.

While it is refreshing to see the state legislature is finally taking an active role in governing the state after its long hiatus, it is disappointing that rather than working together for solutions, it is a return to politics as usual. Pretending that things are back to normal won’t make COVID-19 go away. It will take the increased rollout of vaccinations to make that happen. Vaccination rollouts will take time. Masks, no matter how uncomfortable or annoying, help buy time for people to be vaccinated.

No one is suggesting the creation of mask police or calling for draconian enforcement of mask rules. Law enforcement has enough on their plate with regular scofflaws. It has been, and always will be a matter of personal responsibility and the wllingness of individuals to deal with being uncomfortable in the short-term in order to look out for the public good for their friends and neighbors.

The lesson from the legislative game-playing is that when it comes to looking out for the best interests of Wisconsin residents, Madison is too busy playing political games and locals must do it themselves.