Dissent for the proposed Winnebago County Health Ordinance was met with cheers from the crowd as residents voiced their concerns over further COVID-19 restrictions at the County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday evening.
“The intersection of government and health care policy is a dangerous proposition where special interests and agendas flourish,” Winnebago County resident Carol Keener said at the meeting.
While neither issues were on the agenda, many residents urged the board to vote down the proposed health officer amendment and encouraged the board not to make face masks mandatory in the county.
The proposed amendment to the County Health Officer code would give the health officer authority to close schools, forbid public gatherings, quarantine people and disinfect buildings to control outbreaks of communicable diseases.
The County Board was originally set to vote on the amendment at their last meeting in June, but tabled the issue after pushback from residents called for more public input.
Oshkosh resident Glenn Petsin said he was concerned with giving the health officer sole authority to shut down schools and businesses.
“It is draconian to give somebody in the health department total rule to shut down our county,” Petsin said. “This affects livelihoods [and] people’s income.”
Oshkosh resident Steve Karlin said giving the county health officer power to quarantine people and forbid public gatherings goes against the U.S. Constitution.
Karlin said he believes the proposed amendment is a power grab by the county health officer intended to limit the rights of county residents.
“So many people are jumping on the bandwagon against this amendment because the buzzwords ‘taking away our rights’ was thrown out there,” Oshkosh resident Lois Gruetzmacher said.
Gruetzmacher said she is in favor of the amended health ordinance because the power to control the spread of COVID-19 is important for maintaining a healthy society.
“This is about assuring that the health department has the authority to protect the community from communicable diseases and threats to our health,” she said.
Opposition to the amendment was frequently met with cheers and chants of “we will not comply” from members of the crowd, while the crowd shouted at and interrupted those who spoke in favor of the proposal.
Many residents voiced their concerns with the portion of the amendment that states the health officer can enter private property to remove “any person affected by a communicable disease if necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the public.”
Oshkosh resident Dan Shay disagreed with this, saying that this power was unconstitutional.
“I’m disheartened by the language that I read in [the ordinance],” Shay said. “I was disgusted by the language, disgusted how somebody could just come into a person’s house.”
However, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris said the authority to quarantine infected people is already granted to health officers through the Wisconsin legislature.
“All of the information [in the ordinance] came out of the communicable disease section of the state code,” Harris said at the June 16 board meeting. “That’s the power that the state intended to give to the health director.”
Omro resident Mike Horak said a reason people are against the ordinance is that the health officer can enter people’s homes without a warrant.
However, the ordinance states that the health officer may only enter private property with a “special inspection warrant issued” under Wisconsin statute.
County residents also tried to dissuade the county board from issuing mandatory mask requirements in the county.
While the board has not stated any intent to issue mask requirements, residents’ complaints come after Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri issued a proclamation recommending face coverings in the city and businesses like Walmart, Target, Menards, Walgreens and CVS are requiring customers to wear masks.
Oshkosh resident Deb Werner-Allen said she thinks it should be up to individuals to decide if they should wear a mask or not.
“I think we’re all adults and I think we can decide how many times a day we can wash our hands and if we should wear a mask,” she said.
Oshkosh resident Thomas Hoversten said it makes no sense for people who aren’t sick to be required to wear masks.
The CDC recommends that everyone wear masks in public to help prevent people who have COVID-19 and asymptomatic carriers from spreading the virus.
Hoversten contended that requiring everyone to wear a mask goes against individual liberties.
“We do not need masks,” he said. “This is boarding on Marxism and socialism.”
Oshkosh resident and retired dentist Tom Hallquist said he thinks it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the people in the county by wearing masks.
“Protecting our senior citizens by wearing a mask is easy to do,” he said. “We have a responsibility to protect our customers, employees and to control the spread of this virus.”
Hallquist also has created a blog, stopcovidfirst.com, where he gives updates on the pandemic, stresses the need for masks and to treat the virus as a public health crisis, and includes videos about how a sneeze can spread the coronavirus droplets, as well as a message from Internal Specialist Dr. Mike Duffy of Oshkosh.