In an 8-7 vote, the Racine Common Council passed an ordinance Tuesday that requires people in the City of Racine to wear a face-covering when they are out in public.
City officials hope to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Of the 2,690 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported on July 20, 1,678 are from the City of Racine.
City of Racine Public Health Department Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox explained that Wisconsin reported the highest-daily increase at 1,171 in cases since tracking began 22 weeks ago. About 22 percent of the 44,135 Wisconsin cases are considered active. The case rate in the City of Racine stands as the second-highest in the state at 1389.5 per 100,000 in population.
To make her case, Bowersox pointed to a story by Politico where Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a plea for people to wear a face covering and a story by the Mayo Clinic that outlined the benefits of wearing a face mask.
“We are limited in our ability to control community spread…” Bowersox said. “We are out of tools in the toolbox. The masks are it.”
What’s in the face-mask ordinance
Under the ordinance, the City requires people to wear a face-covering over their mouth and nose. It calls for people to wear those face coverings in any indoor public space, outdoor public space and six feet within another person who isn’t a member of the person’s family or household, or riding on public transportation.
A face covering includes bandanas, medical masks, cloth masks, scarves, and gaiters.
Businesses, organizations, and non-profit entities located within the City would also need to require employees, customers, or visitors to wear a face covering.
Several exemptions are in the ordinance. They include children 4-years-old and under, people with certain medical conditions, people seated at a restaurant or “other establishment that offers food or beverage service where they are eating or drinking,” or people who would be at risk if they wore a face covering at work.
Businesses have the right to refuse entry or service to people who don’t comply with the ordinance.
People violating the ordinance would be fined $25 upon the first conviction, $50 for the second conviction, and $100 for the third conviction.
Businesses, organizations, and non-profit organizations can be fined $50 to $500 and could lose their business license for not following the ordinance.
Common Council divided on decision
Questions ensued around how the ordinance would be implemented and enforced, exemptions, and how businesses would be impacted.
The City would task the Racine Police Department with enforcing the ordinance. But the City of Racine Public Health Department and the Racine Police Department would educate the public before writing citations. City staff is also working on securing masks to give the police department and other city departments to hand out to the community.
Alderman Henry Perez asked if someone had an illness and didn’t wear a mask, would the police be able to question that person about what kind of a disease they had that prevented them from wearing one. City Attorney Scott Letteney said the officer would be able to ask the person about that illness because the Health Information Privacy Protection Act (HIPPA) would not apply.
“It would be on that person — as with any ordinance that they are accused of — to present a defense that would be considered one of the exceptions,” Letteney said.
Perez also questioned Letteney about whether the ordinance would stand up in court if challenged. He said he patterned the City’s ordinance after laws in other cities and believed it would stand up in court.
“We’ve seen that people can decide to sue us, but we have lots of ordinances that regulate behavior. And that’s what this is,” Letteney said. “I think it’s specific in its definitions and prescriptions.”
Alderman John Tate II supported the ordinance, saying that it was a better alternative than the Safer at Home ordinance, which shut down many businesses. But it was overturned by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Jon Frederickson and then reinstated by an Appellate Court.
“The best mitigator we have at this time is masking,” he said. “When people talk about responsibility… you know freedom and responsibility go hand in hand, right? And to maintain that freedom, we do have to demonstrate that responsibility, not only to ourselves but to our fellow man.”
The face-covering ordinance goes into effect at 8 a.m. Monday, July 27.