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Start ticketing

Finally, it’s time. Marathon County law enforcement needs to start issuing citations to people who don’t wear face masks indoors in public.

We come to this conclusion after seeing Gov. Tony Evers’ mask order go pretty much unenforced over the last two months.

The results are not good at all. Wisconsin has turned into a COVID-19 national hot spot and, locally, as of Tuesday, the county had 2,023 confirmed caseswith943activecasesand22deaths.Lastweek, the Marathon County Health Department said it lacked manpower to conduct contact tracing on all of the people coming down with coronavirus. The county’s three major health care providers—Aspirus, Marshfield Clinic and Ascension—fretted that higher levels of public infection could overwhelm their capacity to treat patients and jointly urged the public to take standard precautions to stop spreading the disease, including the wearing of a mask. Athens Public School announced on Sunday it had to go virtual because nearly 100 teachers, students and staff need to be quarantined for COVID- 19 over the next two weeks.

We don’t see another viable option here. The Marathon County Health and Human Services Committee last week discussed the sharply higher number of county COVID-19 cases. The best idea this panel could come up with is sponsoring a “public engagement” campaign to introduce a county ordinance that would somehow deal with the coronavirus. Health officer Joan Theurer said the idea wouldn’t work. Her department, which would be charged with the public engagement, doesn’t have the staff to take on extra duties at this time.

We fully understand that police are loath to get entangled in the politics of COVID-19 and face masks. The issue has become part of the state’s divided politics. Gov. Evers, a Democrat, wants face masks. The Republican-controlled state legislature doesn’t — and supports a lawsuit to overturn the governor’s order.

This reluctance to get involved with face masks wasperhapsdefensiblewhenthecountyhadamere 100 or so cases and a handful of deaths. But things are different now. COVID-19 is here. The disease in the county is more deadly than fatal car crashes. It is more deadly than homicides. It is more deadly than drug overdoses. It is more deadly than all of these things combined. Law enforcement needs to respond. It’s part of serve and protect.

We are done with magical thinking that says the COVID-19 pandemic will simply go away. That’s not going to happen. Winter is coming. We will share inside spaces with others. The caseload will only get worse, not better.

And we are done with the idea that the health department alone can effectively enforce a mask ordinance. The health department has a face mask complaint form, but we are not aware that the department has been able to effectively change the behavior of people who don’t follow the governor’s order to wear a mask. This newspaper filed an open records law request with the health department to learn more about the complaints. We received a stack of complaints with the names of individuals and businesses black markered out. Maybe that was the legally proper thing to do, but protecting the privacy of people who don’t wear masks or businesses that flaunt the governor’s order doesn’t help Marathon County stay healthy.

Yesterday, Gov. Evers, responding to a spike in state COVID-19 numbers, issued an order to limit public gatherings in stores, restaurants and other businesses.

We don’t blame the governor for doing what he can to save lives, but we are frustrated that the state is marching backwards towards a “Safer at Home”mandate because a face mask rule never was properly enforced.

We would love to see a voluntary face mask effort deal a fatal blow to COVID-19, but, after two months, we know that won’t work. Law enforcement needs to start writing face mask tickets.

Editorial by Peter Weinschenk, The Record-Review