Racine stops enforcing mask ordinance, as CDC eases mask restrictions

NOW: Racine stops enforcing mask ordinance, as CDC eases mask restrictions

RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Following new federal mask guidance, Racine has ended its citywide mask ordinance.

Mayor Cory Mason issued an emergency declaration Friday, May 14, suspending enforcement of the city's mask ordinance. Mason will ask the Common Council to fully repeal the ordinance at its meeting on May 18. 

"This does not mean the pandemic is over," Mason said. "If you are not vaccinated, COVID-19 is still a very serious threat to your health, and you should continue to wear masks and follow other best practices."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask guidance on Thursday, saying that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Mason said the new CDC guidance means that Racine's mask ordinance is now "outdated and nearly impossible to enforce."

At Plumb Gold in downtown Racine, owner Austin Schultz said all of his staff members have received the COVID-19 vaccine, so he's giving customers the option of whether or not to mask up.

"If a customer's more comfortable coming in wearing a mask, by all means do that, but if they don't wish to wear one and they're vaccinated, by all means please come in and you don't have to wear a mask," Schultz said.

Schultz said downtown Racine is built up of a tight-knit community of business owners, and the city's announcement Friday marks a step toward normalcy.

"I think this is a positive step in the right direction in saying that it's safe to come out and shop, it's safe to eat out at the restaurants that you love to eat at," Schultz said.

The CDC guidance says businesses can still choose to require masks. Across Wisconsin, some are still choosing to do so. Erik Eisenmann, an employment attorney and partner at Husch Blackwell, said he has received several calls from businesses seeking legal advice about the new guidance.

"Businesses are getting calls from customers and employees saying, 'Hey, I heard on the news that I don't have to wear the mask anymore,' but maybe it's not quite that simple," Eisenmann said.

Eisenmann said the guidance allows employers to ask to see an employee's vaccination card or sign a document saying they've been vaccinated. If not, they can operate on an honor system, but that comes with potential risks.

"Are you unnecessarily creating a risk or a scenario where unvaccinated individuals might be coming in without a mask and potentially spreading COVID? Or alternatively, are you going to create a scenario where employees feel uncomfortable to come back if they know that potentially on vaccinated unmasked employees might be in the workplace?" Eisenmann said.

Waukesha County dropped its mask mandate at the end of March, but some businesses, including Golden Crystal Body Piercings, still require masks.

"Currently, we do require everyone to wear a mask the entire time that they're in their studio. We make sure they have it over their nose and mouth, properly worn," said owner Alexandria "Lexie" Lipp.

Lipp said her studio is currently not doing procedures that require clients to remove their masks, but she is planning a phased approach to change this when she feels ready. She said the studio's policy is universal for clients whether or not they're vaccinated, and the new CDC guidance won't affect her policy.

"If people aren't comfortable coming here because we require them to wear masks, they don't have to come here," Lipp said. 

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