County postpones mask mandate indefinitely, city to decide on similar mandate in March

Sophia Voight, Assistant News Editor

The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors voted to postpone a county-wide mask mandate indefinitely on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Oshkosh Common Council held its first reading of  a similar city-wide mask ordinance Tuesday, but no decision will be made until its next meeting in March. 

Both mask mandate proposals came after the state Legislature repealed the statewide mask mandate Feb. 4. However,  Gov. Tony Evers issued a new health emergency order that same day, reinstating the face mask requirement in the state. The proposed city and county mask mandates are/were to take effect only if the state mandate was again rescinded.

County health officials issued an advisory mask order that recommends residents wear face masks on Feb. 16 to set in place until the county board voted on an official mandate. 

The 26-to-4 vote for the indefinite postponement of the mandate also removes the advisory mask order for the county.

Under the order, all individuals aged 5 and up in the county would be required to wear a face mask in any building or enclosed spaces open to the public for the next 60 days.

The order recommends wearing masks outdoors and all other settings as well when physical distancing is not possible. 

In the order, the county asked for voluntary compliance of the mask order, but people, businesses and property owners could receive a citation for not wearing or enforcing face masks. 

The governor’s mask mandate currently remains in place, but Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris said the county’s mask mandate is intended to keep a mask requirement in Winnebago County if state mandates get struck down again. 

Harris said the ordinance would have only moved past advisory if the state mask mandate was removed.

“The masking order is only there as a safety measure if the governor’s order gets struck down,” Harris said at the county board meeting Tuesday.

More than 200 residents attended the virtual county board meeting Tuesday night, the majority of which voiced their opinions against the mask mandate.

Winnebago County resident Christine Whitty said she doesn’t think the county needs a mask mandate when COVID-19 cases are trending down. 

“I’m not seeing how we’re in the midst of this pandemic and why are we doing this now,” Whitty said. “I don’t see COVID-19 as a threat anymore.” =

County resident Tim Paterson argued that the mask mandate discriminates against those with medical issues and goes against his constitutional rights.

“I thought my county government would be more concerned with those who are disadvantaged, than taking away my constitutional rights,” Paterson said.

Resident Deb Marton said she was for the mask mandate and felt that masks are necessary to keep people safe from COVID-19.

“I feel like I have a right to feel safe when I walk into a store in my area,” Martin said. 

County Board Chair Shiloh Ramos said he supports wearing masks, but he didn’t think it was necessary for the county to have a mask mandate when the state mask requirement is in place.

Although the city took no action Tuesday, they discussed adding a 60 or 90 day period after which the mask mandate would expire. Such a provision will likely be added to their mask mandate at their next meeting.