State Supreme Court's mask mandate decision leaves patchwork of policies across local governments, businesses

NOW: State Supreme Court’s mask mandate decision leaves patchwork of policies across local governments, businesses

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) – While the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Governor Tony Evers’ multiple public health emergencies ends the statewide mask mandate, individual localities and businesses are left on their own to decide whether or not to keep or extend their own face covering policies.

One such business is Rich’s Barber Shop in Waukesha.

“I’ve been lucky and fortunate and I think the masks have helped with that effort,” the barber shop’s owner, Paul Furrer, told CBS 58.

Furrer requires masks to be worn by his staff and customers. Over the course of the pandemic, Furrer said he came into contact with multiple COVID-positive clients but did not get infected with COVID-19.

While most of his clients are fine with his mask requirement, Furrer said he has had debates with some over the face coverings and even lost customers.

“With the mask mandate being lifted, I think I’m going to have more discussions with customers,” Furrer said, while cutting a client’s hair.

Furrer faces the same challenge other businesses in the state do now that they no longer have a statewide mask mandate to point to. The city of Waukesha does not have its own mandate and neither does the county.

Roundy’s – which runs Pick N’ Save and Metro Market stores – sent CBS 58 this statement saying it will maintain its current mask requirement:

"The mask mandate ruling today by the Wisconsin Supreme Court does not change our mask policy at our Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market stores. As an employer, grocery provider and community partner, we have a responsibility to help keep our associates, customers, and communities safe. We require all customers in our Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market stores to wear a mask when shopping in our stores." 

Localities have the power to issue their own orders which supersede the state Supreme Court’s decision. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities issued guidance to its members stating cities and villages have emergency powers, including the power to issue a mask mandate. That guidance can be found here.

Cities like Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Wauwatosa have their own mask mandates in place. But as the court invalidates the statewide mandate, some cities are choosing to stay the course of not issuing community-wide mandates. Some local governments had prepared for this moment.

“Many of us had very little faith in a very divisive, divided state Legislature,” Shorewood Village Trustee Tammy Brokhorst said.

Shorewood village leadership plans to send a message to residents Thursday, April 1, reminding them their face covering ordinance is still in effect.

“When you come to Shorewood, you will know that you will be safe when you’re in public spaces," Brokhorst said.

In Waukesha, face coverings are required in government buildings and other property. But it does not extend to the entire city.

“I don’t see really any big change for us and the people in Waukesha,” Mayor Shawn Reilly told CBS 58 in an interview. “I do think there will be more requests for changes to come in regards to wearing masks and all that in the future.”

Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto said the ability to enforce a mask mandate is tied to a local government having a health department. He does not believe Brookfield has the authority to pass a mandate without county backing.

“Our city attorney takes the position that Waukesha County is the appropriate entity to issue any order on a mask mandate,” Ponto said.

In Milwaukee County, mitigation efforts will continue. A spokesperson for County Executive David Crowley told CBS 58, “the county plans on continuing to enforce […] COVID-19 risk mitigation efforts, including requiring masks, at all county facilities. The county’s mask mandate was approved by the County Board and will remain in place for the foreseeable future.”

In Wauwatosa, the city’s current mandate expires April 7. The Common Council is set to vote to extend the mandate through June 16, essentially keeping it until the end of the school year.

Some aldermen are opposed.

“It’s only a recommendation, not a mandate from the CDC,” Ald. Mik Morgan of District 7 told CBS 58. “So I think at this point, people can decide for themselves.” Morgan said cases and hospitalizations are at a point where he believes it is not necessary to keep a mandate and instead make it voluntary.

Ald. Allison Byrne of District 6 sent CBS 58 this statement of support for extending the mandate:

“Keeping kids in school will have an effect on people’s ability to work, the economy and the mental health of our students – it makes absolute sense to keep the mask mandate for the remainder of the school year. In addition, at that time it is likely that most anyone who would like a vaccine would have the opportunity to do so.”

Rep. Robyn Vining, who legislates for Wauwatosa at the state level, said even as the vaccination effort ramps up, COVID mitigation efforts need to stay in place.

“This is no time to take our foot off the gas,” Vining said. “We are so close, we can see that light.”

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