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RACINE – Mayor Cory Mason signed an executive order Thursday suspending enforcement of the Racine mask mandate effective at noon.

The Racine Common Council will consider a full sunset of the mask ordinance at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, March 1.  

“I have been in discussion with the Public Health Department for several weeks, monitoring the trend of the case rate of COVID-19 in our community. With the decline in cases, the Public Health Department is comfortable suspending enforcement on the City’s mask ordinance and recommend the ordinance be permitted to expire at next week’s meeting of the Common Council,” Mason said in a statement.

Racine mask mandate may be lifted, but transmission of COVID still high

Mason cautioned the public: the pandemic isn’t over, and the City of Racine COVID-19 transmission rate remains extremely high.

The reported case rates have dropped from a 7-day average of 768 cases in mid-January to a 7-day average of 27 cases. However, state officials have cautioned that cases may not be reported to the state due to many residents doing at-home tests. The hospitalization rate has declined by 60 percent over the past two weeks, according to a story by the New York Times.

“We hope it is in serious decline, but that does not mean it does not still present a serious threat to health, especially if you are not vaccinated. Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are still two highly recommended ways to mitigate your risk of getting sick from Covid,” he added. “And, while the ordinance may get repealed next Tuesday, that does not prevent individual businesses, schools, or organizations from requiring masks and I encourage everyone to continue to take precautions they feel are best to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

The Racine Common Council reinstated the ordinance requiring masks to be worn indoors in early September as the Delta variant, and later the Omicron variant, of COVID-19 sent case counts soaring nationally and locally. But COVID-19 now appears to be waning.

City Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox noted that the COVID-19 case rate in the city has fallen from nearly 1,800 cases per 100,000 people in early January to fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people. In addition, hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 have followed a similar downward trend.

“Coupled with the increasing availability and ease of at-home testing as well as the withdrawal from mandatory universal contact tracing are considerations to retiring the current facemask ordinance,” Bowersox said in a statement released Thursday morning.

Although members of the public are no longer required to wear masks in City of Racine buildings, city employees will still be required to follow current policies, including masks and testing requirements. Internal staff policies are expected to be reviewed in the coming weeks.

Keep Taking Health Precautions

The mayor’s office and the City Department of Public Health continue to recommend following fundamental public health precautions. These include:

  • Wear a mask that fits (sits snugly over both your nose and mouth) and is made of two or three layers of material. 
  • Get vaccinated from COVID-19, including a booster dose when eligible. 
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate at home for at least 5 days, until you feel well. Following isolation, you should wear a mask in public for up to 5 additional days (through day 10). See www.racinecoronavirus.org/positive for more information. 
  • If you get exposed to COVID-19, you should quarantine at home for 5 days. Following quarantine, you should wear a mask in public for 5 additional days. See www.racinecoronavirus.org/contact for more information. 
  • Continue to follow workplace and/or school requirements for mask usage as well as quarantine and isolation timelines. 
  • If you or someone in your household is sick or was exposed to COVID-19, consider wearing a mask at home to prevent the spread of disease to others in the household. 
  • Masks continue to be required by federal law when using public transportation, including buses, taxis, and ride sharing apps such as Uber or Lyft. 
  • Posted mask requirements by businesses and other facilities (such as hospitals and clinics) must be followed. 

Pressure From Downtown Businesses

The Racine mask ordinance, which had been in effect since Sept. 4, applied only to indoor spaces and public transportation within the Racine city limits.

Adjacent municipalities, including the Villages of Caledonia, Sturtevant, Mount Pleasant and North Bay, have not had facemask requirements in place since the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a statewide mask mandate in March 2021.

Business operators and residents within the City of Racine have long complained that the city’s requirement made the city an island. Earlier this week, the Downtown Racine Corp. (DRC) approved a letter to Mason, Common Council President John Tate II and all Common Council members requesting that they consider lifting the mask mandate.

“Unfortunately, the current mask ordinance was passed with little public input or consideration of its effects on the small business community. Most Downtown public establishments saw an immediate drop in foot traffic, and sales decreased for some City of Racine businesses by as much as 30%,” stated the letter signed by Kelly Kruse, DRC executive director.

The letter, delivered to the mayor and council members Tuesday, noted that 49 states, including neighboring Illinois, have decided to let their indoor mask requirements expire.

“Dane County and the City of Milwaukee are letting their mandates expire March 1, as is the University of Wisconsin System,” the DRC letter stated. “If our mask mandate in the City of Racine continues, it will be one of the few mandates left in the entire United States.”

Next Tuesday’s Racine Common Council meeting will be available to be viewed via the City of Racine Facebook page.

The Racine County Eye and Kenosha Lens is committed to publishing the most current and accurate information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in our Coronavirus section. View both the Racine County COVID-19 Dashboard and Kenosha County COVID-19 Dashboard offering real-time (updated Monday – Friday) statistical reporting for Racine and Kenosha Counties.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...