Face Coverings

Members of the public fill the Ripon Council Chambers during Monday's Common Council meeting, most of which were donning face coverings. Under Gov. Tony Evers' emergency order, masks will be required when indoors or in an enclosed space, other than a private residence, starting tomorrow (Saturday). Local law enforcement departments, however, have differed on the enforcement of it.

With Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order requiring face coverings statewide set to go in place at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) morning, many departments across the state have come out and addressed how they plan to enforce the order.

The city of Ripon Police Department (RPD) was one of them as it released a statement on its Facebook page around 2 p.m. today (Friday).

The statement came after it met this morning with the Fond du Lac County Health Department, legal advisors and other law enforcement agencies in Fond du Lac County.

The purpose of the meeting was to “try and establish some consistency on the enforcement”of the emergency order, and featured “questions concerning the enforcement of the mandate, the legality and how it will be enforced.”

The order states that starting tomorrow morning at 12:01 a.m. “every individual, age five and older, in Wisconsin shall wear a face covering if both of the following apply:

a. The individual is indoors or in an enclosed space, other than at a private residence ; and;

b. Another person or persons who are not members of individual’s household or living unit are present in the same room or enclosed space.

Face coverings are strongly recommended in all other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.”

The order also included several exceptions in which a person could remove their mask. It is all those exceptions that the RPD noted makes it a tough order for it to enforce.

“While mask coverings are required, the personal health, religious, mental health, sensory sensitivity, or activity engaging in at the time, may prevent some people from wearing face masks, making enforcement of this issue extremely difficult,” Ripon Police Chief Bill Wallner said in the statement.

He added the RPD realizes the danger of COVID-19 and its spread.

“We certainly believe that wearing of facemasks is an important tool to take reasonable steps to help control this issue,” Wallner said. “Although we appreciate the statewide mandate, we also believe that there is some need for personal responsibility to act accordingly, and for people [to] make the right individual decision for themselves.”

The statement went on to state that the “RPD has been informed that the Fond du Lac County Health department will be addressing specific complaints concerning individuals not wearing masks when others believe they are in violation of the governor’s order.”

Individuals should call 920-929-3085, ext. 6. Calls to the RPD communications center will be screened, and if appropriate, may be directed to the health department.

The statement also mentioned that “RPD officers will not be responding to individual complaints concerning the wearing or not wearing of masks by individuals.”

Wallner acknowledged the issue has been a hot-button topic.

“We hope that cooler heads prevail and disagreements on this issue can be resolved with communication, education, and information,” he said to close the statement.

FDL County Sheriff’s Dept. notes it won’t enforce order

While the RPD directs individuals to contact the Fond du Lac County Health Department when they believe the mask order is being violated, the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department noted it does not plan to enforce Evers’ order.

“We do not have the resources or the time to respond to complaints about people not wearing masks, and there are many legitimate reasons that people cannot safely wear masks, among other concerns I have with the order,” Fond du Lac County Sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt said. “Please do not contact the Fond du Lac County Communications Center to report people not wearing masks, as they, too, are very busy handling urgent law enforcement, EMS and fire-related calls.

“We do ask that everyone respect each other’s individual decision whether or not to wear a mask, make your own decision to wear or not wear a mask based on personal health concerns and concerns for others around you, and respect all private businesses that require masks on their property.”

He added “private businesses do reserve the right to uphold the mandate on their property.”

FdL County Health Department supports order

Waldschmidt’s statement differed from that of the Fond du Lac County Health Department, which held a brief Facebook Live press conference earlier this morning.

During that press conference Health Officer Kim Mueller noted “Fond du Lac County is supportive of the orders and feel strongly that face coverings will help with reducing the spread of this virus. The health department has been doing a lot of work around encouraging our businesses, residents in our community as a whole, around the importance of face coverings, physical distancing, hand washing, as well as staying home when you’re ill to help prevent the spread of this virus, and the important role that we all play in helping to reduce the spread. We encourage everyone to abide by [the] governor’s orders.”

Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel added in his several decades of service to Fond du Lac County, he has seen how great the people of the county are and how they care about one another and step forward in times of crisis.

He encouraged people to do the same actions in regards to the order.

“We have a crisis like none of us have seen before, and it is not getting better on its own, so Governor Evers’ had to take some measure and I support his having taken that measure,” Buechel said. “But this should not be about whether we’re going to enforce this. I think it should be about whether we’re going to do the right thing and just wear the mask. It will affect others and it will affect yourselves and it’s the right thing to do. So please wear the mask so we don’t have to worry about whether we’re enforcing it or not. We’d much rather have you do the right thing and comply.”

Evers’ order requiring faceguards is set to run through Sept. 28, 2020, or by a subsequent superseding emergency order.

Jonathan Bailey has been covering sports and general news assignments for the Ripon Commonwealth Press since 2011. He is a former reporter for The Green Laker, a summer publication produced by the Ripon Commonwealth Press, and now is its editor.

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