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Kenosha City Council passes face mask ordinance

KENOSHA ⏤ The City Council passed a new mask ordinance Monday night for residents and businesses in the city.

The ordinance, approved 15-2 by the council, requires face masks to be worn in local businesses. It also requires businesses to enforce six-feet social distancing.

Alderpersons David Paff and Dominic Ruffalo were the only opposers of the ordinance.

It will take effect upon its legal publication, a process that should be complete by next week.

The ordinance will remain in effect until March 31, 2021, or “unless extended or earlier terminated or modified by the common council.”

Face masks required

Under the ordinance, residents must wear a face covering when:

  • In any building open to the public; or
  • Waiting or riding on public transportation or riding in a taxi, private care service, or ride-sharing.

Amended language

Ald. Bill Siel

The resolution’s original sponsor, Ald. Bill Siel, amended the language concerning businesses capacity. The original limitation presented to the council was up to 50% of a businesses’ capacity. However, by Monday night’s meeting, Siel had softened that language.

“Limit the number of people on the premises to no more than is strictly necessary to perform the business operation,” it now states.

Other requirements

It also requires business to:

  • Comply with social distancing of 6 feet between all individuals on the premises. This includes but is not limited to employees, customers and members of the public;
  • Increase standards of facility cleaning and disinfection of all areas;
  • And post signage reminding staff and customers of safe business practices, social distancing requirements, hand hygiene, and cough/sneeze etiquette.

Citizens urge council to pass ordinance

Only three citizens offered comments on the ordinance during a public hearing Monday night.

Three of those citizens ⏤ Michael Connolly of Pleasant Prairie, Amy Watson of Kenosha and former alderperson Julia Robinson ⏤ urged the council to pass the ordinance.

“I would strongly suggest that the council do pass this,” Connolly told the council. “I don’t think I need to repeat the statistics that everybody has been barraged with all week. It’s not just here that things are out of control. It’s the Midwest has been hammered. And things are only getting worse before they’re getting better.”

Watson agreed that there was “extensive data that demonstrates face coverings are important to preventing the spread of COVID.”

“The one thing I would say is, I don’t know that this is the appropriate venue or time, but obviously, this does affect local businesses. And it would be wonderful if at some point the council could consider ways to assist local businesses via state, local, federal,” she said. “Just because we do all understand the negative impact it has. Because the pandemic is so severe right now, I think it’s safe to say there’s likely no other way to address this.”

Citizen opposes ordinance

The clerk read the fourth citizen comment, from resident Marjorie Cohen, into the record Monday night.

In her letter to the council, Cohen stated that the information around the coronavirus remains “inconsistent, arguably by design at times.”

“Folks deserve the right to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment for themselves and others,” Cohen said.

She called a local billboard about face masks “propaganda,” stating, “if wearing a mask supposedly protects you, I would draw the conclusion that masks are being considered a medical modality.”

“I won’t give you links, citations or other statistical facts because there’s always something else someone else saw or read that confirmed their belief,” she wrote. “We could go back and forth all day. We all know this information is being censored left and right.

“Including a valid alternative medical option. A lot of us think we are listening to science, but we are really listening to paid promotional ads by trillion-dollar industries that make up the science that mostly benefits them, not us.”

As she stated, Cohen offered no evidence or citations for her claims, which run counter to the growing number of cases in Kenosha County and across the nation in recent weeks.

In fact, as of Tuesday morning, Kenosha County has seen 7,504 positive coronavirus cases and 109 deaths resulting from COVID-19. These numbers are up 15% in the county from last week.

‘Dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery’

Cohen pushed further that COVID-19 numbers are “inflated and skewed.”

She still offered no evidence, simply stating, “After all, figures don’t lie, but liars do figure.”

“Let us agree to disagree, have our own opinions as well as our own bodily decisions,” Cohen concluded. “Medical freedom is important to stand up for, just as freedom of speech. Let’s encourage ways to boost one’s immune system instead.

“Dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

Council president voices support for compromise

In their comments, the majority of the council voiced support for the measure.

“I think what we have here is a very well-done compromise,” said council president Ald. David Bogdala.

Bogdala, who noted he worked with Siel on the final language of the ordinance the last several days, stated it also legitimizes wearing face masks.

“Let me say very clearly: Masks are good,” Bogdala said. “Masks are not a political statement. I think what we hope to have here is some legitimacy to that. I will also say that the one thing I’m hopeful for is that not only is this ordinance, you know, for the city of Kenosha but we’re hopeful, when this expires at the state level, in order to bring some consistency across the state for mask usage, I think that’s needed.”

Though supportive, liked stronger version

Ald. Holly Kangas

Ald. Holly Kangas and Ald. Jan Michalski, as well as others, voiced their disappointment that Siel softened the ordinance.

Particularly, they took issue with the capacity being changed from 50%, to businesses just needing to keep a six-feet social distance between patrons.

“On some level, I’m disappointed it doesn’t go far enough anymore,” Kangas said.

“No. 1, I will be supporting this version, although like the alderperson from the (4th District), I preferred the version that came out of Public Safety & Welfare that I had made some amendments to,” Michalski said in his comments.

“Still, we’re still taking steps in the right direction.”

Ald. Jan Michalski

Michalski also voiced his support for a countywide mask mandate.

“Because when you got the mandate in the city and you cross the street to an establishment in Pleasant Prairie or Somers and they don’t have the same mandate,” he said, “it creates somewhat of an unfair situation. And I hope that the county comes up with something that is appropriate as well.”

Two aldermen opposed

As a result of the unfair situation mentioned by Michalski, Ruffalo decided to vote against the ordinance.

Ruffalo is in his sixth week of having COVID-19 and still taking medication, he told the council. However, while supportive of masks, for the 16th District, the ordinance would hurt local businesses.

mask; council; ordinance
Ald. Dominic Ruffalo

This is especially true when the district borders Pleasant Prairie, Somers, Bristol and Paris.

“Highway 50 on the south side. It is all Pleasant Prairie restaurants,” he said. “This will not apply. This mask ordinance will not apply to them businesses. It’s an unfair advantage. I think the county health department should do something; they didn’t. The County Board didn’t. The state didn’t. The governor didn’t.”

He acknowledges the city has “to do something.”

“I’m all for wearing masks, but this doesn’t put anybody on an even playing field,” he concluded. “I have two of the biggest tourist attractions in Kenosha in my district ⏤ The Brat Stop and Mars Cheese Castle. I bet they wish right now they were in the town of Salem, Paris, Pleasant Prairie. It’s up to them. If they want to have a mask mandate, that’s fine.

“This definitely puts them at a disadvantage. So for that, I’m a no vote tonight.”

Ald. Paff voted against the ordinance, not wanting to put “too much unnecessary pressure on businesses.”

Aldermen critical of state Legislature

Several aldermen voiced their frustrations with the state for its COVID-19 response since March.

The most damning comment being that of Ald. Curt Wilson.

“We would not be in this situation had the Republican leadership in Madison ⸺ I’m talking about the state Assembly and Senate ⸺ done their job and worked with the governor to try and make all citizens of this state a hell of a lot safer than they are right now with this virus ripping across our great state,” Wilson said.

Ald. Curt Wilson

“I would urge my colleagues to pass this ordinance, and let’s get on with it.”

As of Tuesday morning, the state had seen 316,758 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2,649 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.

So far, the United States has amassed 11,212,691 positive cases.

According to the latest numbers, 247,317 Americans have died from the coronavirus, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

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