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Counties taking mask complaints

Local law enforcement agencies are not enforcing a statewide face covering mandate that took effect last Saturday, but the health departments in both Clark and Marathon counties are taking complaints related to the health order.

Within days after Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order requiring face coverings in all enclosed spaces to combat the spread of COVID-19, county sheriffs throughout Wisconsin announced they would not be enforcing the emergency order.

In a Facebook post last Friday, Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks asked residents not to call dispatch to report mask mandate issues, as it would distract from more pressing issues.

“We have limited resources to handle the call volume for our EMS, fire and law enforcement partners,” he wrote.

The sheriff also said local law enforcement agencies have discretion when it comes to the mandate, and can take actions ranging from verbal or written warnings to citations and arrests.

“These discretionary practices are applied daily in all we do whether normal operations or virus related,” he wrote. “This office will continue to use those discretionary powers in all we do.” Jason Bauer, chief of the Colby Abbotsford Police Department, said his officers are not going to be enforcing the mask mandate locally. He also advises residents to avoid conflicts over the issue. “There’s really no need to approach a person without a mask. They’re probably adamant and it’s just going to lead to an argument,” he said. “That’s just my personal opinion.” County health officials, however, have said they will field complaints from the public about people not wearing face coverings, as required by the mandate. On Tuesday, Clark County health offi cer Brittany Mews sent out a press release inviting county residents to report concerns about violations of the face covering order through a link at the county’s website, If you click on a link entitled “Local Response to Emergency Order #1,” it brings you to a form that allows you to indicate when and where you saw the violation and identify who it involves. Blank spaces for the complainant’s name and phone number are optional, but the form says health officials will be monitoring the complaints and possibly trying to contact complainants for more information if needed. “The information submitted via this online reporting platform may be used to investigate and prosecute violations of Governor Evers’ order regarding face coverings.

In her press release, Mews urges people to contact the police if the issue involves personal conflicts.

“If there is an immediate threat to safety, such as an altercation or disturbance, please contact law enforcement directly, instead of reporting the concern on the online reporting platform,” Mews wrote.

Judy Burrows, public health information officer for the Marathon County Health Department, said health offi cials are trying to work with local law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to address the mask mandate.

Burrows said their primary goal is to educate the public about the benefits of wearing a mask when it comes to slowing or stopping the spread of a disease that is spreading rapidly through Marathon County, Wisconsin and the country as a whole.

If people have complaints or questions related to the mask mandate, Burrows said they can call the health department’s general office line, 715-261-1900, and whoever answers the phone will be able to address their concerns.

“As we receive complaints, if we see a need for enforcement, we’ll be working with law enforcement and the DA’s office to see what next steps to take,” she said.

Burrows noted that there are few exceptions to the mask mandate, including one for those with special medical conditions, so people need to keep that in mind.

“When you see one individual not wearing a mask, don’t assume they’re trying to be non-compliant, because there may be another reason for it,” she said.

Under the order, which took effect after midnight on Aug. 1, most people age five and older are required to wear a face covering if they are indoors (or in an enclosed space). This does not apply to private residences, and is not in effect if the person is alone or with members of their household.

Exceptions are granted for several different situations, such as when people are eating or drinking or when wearing a face covering would create a risk for someone doing their job. Exemptions are also allowed for a variety of health issues.

Violation of the order is punishable by a fine of up to $200.

The emergency order was issued in conjunction with a new declaration of a statewide public health emergency made by Gov. Evers.

“Wisconsin has experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the entire state, with 61 of 72 counties (84 percent) representing 96 percent of the state’s population experiencing high COVID-19 activity,” a press release states. All regions of Wisconsin have high COVID-19 activity levels. This is a dramatic increase from where Wisconsin was in June, when only 19 of 72 counties (26 percent) were experiencing high COVID-19 activity.”

As of Monday, Clark County had 16 active cases of COVID-19, an increase of five from the previous day. Since the pandemic began, the county has reported 179 cases, 11 hospitalizations and seven deaths as a result of the disease.

Marathon County has had 589 confirmed cases, 47 hospitalizations and seven deaths.