KENOSHA ⏤The Common Council will hear a new proposed local ordinance in November that would require masks in businesses in the city.

The ordinance would also limit the capacity of a business to 10 people or 50% of its occupant capacity load as determined by the City Bureau of Fire Prevention ⏤ whichever number is greater.

The purpose of the ordinance, principally sponsored by Ald. Bill Siel, is to “require the following regulations relating to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which are necessary in order to protect, preserve, and promote the general health, safety, and welfare of the public and intended to slow the future spread of COVID-19,” it states. 

“I just think it legitimizes what has been and continues to be the best methods we have at our disposal to minimize spread of this virus, because it is spreading,” Siel explained at a Public Safety & Welfare Committee meeting Monday.

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Regulations

Under the proposed ordinance, restaurants, bars, recreational facilities and virtually all businesses in Kenosha would be limited to serving up to 10 patrons or 50% of their capacity, whichever allows more patrons in the business. 

However, they must provide “seating for all parties which is no less than six (6) feet apart from other parties,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance requires all employees and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing inside businesses. 

For client-based businesses such as salons, social distancing will not be required while a haircut is being done. Customers must wear face masks, however, while in the business waiting or walking around. 

Concerning businesses not mentioned specifically by the proposed ordinance, it states: “All businesses, including those not listed in Sections D.1. or D.2 or D.3. above, are expected to maintain social distancing between patrons and/or parties and should implement or continue to implement procedures to ensure compliance with federal and state health guidance in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Amendments, confusion over language

One line in Section E of the proposed ordinance caused confusion Monday night.

“All persons in the City of Kenosha must have possession of a face covering when the person leaves home or other place of residence.”

Original wording of Section E.1 of proposed ordinance

Ald. Eric Haugaard, who serves on the committee, questioned Siel about the wording Monday night, with Ald. Jan Michalski also questioning whether it was necessary.

“It seems to lead people to believe that they need to have it in their possession if they’re intent on leaving,” Haugaard said.

“There are a number of people who walk the dog around the block and aren’t going to take a mask with them in case they go somewhere else,” Michalski added.

Only violation would be not wearing a mask

Ald. Bill Siel

Siel made it clear that the only violation would be not wearing a mask in public spaces.

“It would not be, in fact, an infraction if you were pulled over while driving and did not have a mask,” Siel said.

He added it would only “present a challenge” when a person arrived at a business without a mask and attempted to go inside.

The committee voted to strike the line from the ordinance Monday night.

Masks off when dining

Residents do not have to wear a face mask while sitting at a table eating or drinking.

“Consumption of food and beverage are not allowed through a mask. They would come off at that point.”

Bill Siel, Dist. 2 alderman

Dining under the ordinance would entail six feet between dining tables and capacity limited to 50%.

“A crowded shoulder-to-shoulder place not minding distance, that would be non-compliance,” he said. 

Enforcement

Aldermen questioned how enforceable the new ordinance would be from a law enforcement standpoint.

Penalties would only really be enforceable in taverns and restaurants, KPD Deputy Chief Eric Larsen said.

The ordinance lists a $250 penalty for violation. That fine was originally $500. The committee amended that number to $250 at Monday’s meeting.

‘Landscape continues to be problematic’

Siel pointed out that, on Friday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited Madison. Birx, in Madison, said Wisconsin is fourth in the nation for new and reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. 

“That is deeply concerning. She met with the Assembly Speaker Robin Vos … and Vos said that they share her concern about the rapid spread that Wisconsin is now experiencing,” he said.

According to the Kenosha County COVID-19 dashboard, as of Monday evening, 201,049 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the state.

The spread of the virus has led to 1,788 deaths in the state. 

Kenosha County had 4,952 confirmed cases as of Monday night ⏤ a 12% increase over last week. Seventy-six people have died from COVID-19 in the county.

“So you know, the landscape continues to be very problematic,” Siel said.

He added that the council has seen how Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate limiting businesses to 25% capacity had “ping-ponged back and forth over the week.”

“And I think it’s very, very vital that the council claim a stake and codify and legitimize practices that many, many businesses and many major retailers, locally-owned businesses and public places are currently following.”

LaMacchia solely opposed

Ald. Rocco LaMacchia

Public Safety and Welfare Committee chairperson Rocco LaMacchia passed the gavel before giving his opinion on the ordinance Monday night.

In considering the restrictions, LaMacchia questioned even the necessity of a local ordinance or local action on the matter.

“I understand that we’re on Public Safety and Welfare and we have a commitment to the citizens of Kenosha,” he said.

“I get that. But I think the state is trying to do their best to put this under control. I don’t think, my opinion again, that we need to one-up what the state is trying to do.”

Jump in headfirst or not at all

LaMacchia takes issue with the seemingly ineffective practice of wearing a face mask to walk six feet to a table in a restaurant.

“For two and a half hours, I didn’t have to wear my  mask. And then for six feet walking out, I had to wear a mask. Show me the rationality behind that. Tell me how I could sit there for two and a half hours, have my meal and a couple cocktails and not have my mask on, but I gotta wear it for six feet. 

“This is where my problem lies: You either jump in headfirst or you don’t jump in at all.” 

Rocco LaMacchia, Dist. 5 alderman

The committee approved a motion 4-1 to send the ordinance to the full council. LaMacchia was the sole member voting against it.

It will next go before the Common Council on Nov. 16, according to Siel.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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Daniel Thompson is an independent journalist and the founder of The Uptown Observer based in the Kenosha, Wis., area. He started in journalism at the Western Nebraska Observer in 2012 and, most notably,...