Mask mandate won’t be enforced


Although wearing a mask is the “responsible thing to do,” Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann said “complainers” should stop “wasting” the time of the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department with reports about people violating the state’s mask mandate. 

Schoemann’s comments came in a post on the county website. 

And an Oct. 4 post on his Josh Schoemann for county executive Facebook page says, “Washington County: Let’s prove we don’t need any more top down heavy handed government orders.” The post goes on to say people should stay home if they are sick or in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive and should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Track COVID-19 in Wisconsin: See the latest numbers and trends

Washington County had 542 active cases as of Oct. 6, according to the health department’s COVID-19 dashboard; Ozaukee County had 261. Together, the two counties have had 4,508 cases and 54 deaths. 

The health department categorizes Washington County’s risk burden as “very high” and Ozaukee County’s as “high.” The burden is defined as the “total number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.”

Schoemann said the health department’s resources are better spent elsewhere.

“The health department will not be investigating reported mask mandate violations,” he wrote, noting that the department does not have the time or the resources to follow up on such complaints.

“Complainers have inundated the health department with calls and emails,” he wrote. “The health department’s job is to assist the public to get tested and assist businesses and organizations in mitigating outbreaks or hotspots.

“Please stop complaining to them and wasting their time, so that they can do their important work of contact tracing, test monitoring and helping businesses and schools to stay open.”

Schoemann also asked people to avoid “pointless calls or emails” about mask violations to the District Attorney’s Office because “they have real criminal cases to prosecute.”   

Josh Schoemann (Photo: Submitted)

Inundated with complaints

Schoemann did not return a phone call from a reporter, but Ethan Hollenberger, public affairs coordinator for Washington County, said the county has received numerous complaints each week about people not wearing masks ever since Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate that went into effect Aug. 1.

Hollenberger said the county received more than 200 emails in the first six weeks after the mandate. 

In addition to complaints about the general public not wearing masks, the county is hearing from people complaining about businesses where employees are not wearing them. “Then they need to talk to the manager or the business owner,” Hollenberger said.

Calls like this use county resources that could better be used responding to calls from people who need information or test results, Hollenberger said.

Schoemann isn’t against masks, but the county simply doesn’t have the resources to respond to complaints about them. Like many other counties, Washington County is not enforcing the mask mandate.

“Wearing a mask is the polite and responsible thing to do,” he wrote on the county website. “The citizens of Washington County are capable of making their own decisions to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Cathy Kozlowicz can be reached at 262-361-9132 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @KozlowiczCathy.

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