As our first week of classes got underway this week, I received several questions about ongoing debates at the state level about ending Wisconsin’s mandatory face covering requirement. I’m pleased to share that, last night, two Eau Claire governmental bodies proactively adopted local mask mandates that can replace the state order if necessary.
On Feb. 2, the Eau Claire county board and city council both approved local mask ordinances designed to activate only if the statewide order is lifted before June 30, 2021. Unless one of these local legislative bodies votes to extend or curtail their mask mandate based on changing pandemic conditions, the ordinances would expire on June 30.
For more information about the local mask mandates, see this news story and the resources linked within.
Eau Claire is a regional healthcare hub, and our area schools, universities, and technical colleges serve more than 30,000 students. Any increase in viral activity threatens these shared systems we rely on. I was pleased to advocate for these public health-focused local ordinances, and you can find the text of my support letter below.
My thanks to all members of the Blugold family whose mask wearing, physical distancing, hand sanitizing, and symptom monitoring continue to model effective pandemic mitigation strategies in our community.
February 2, 2021
Nick Smiar, Chair
Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors
Terry Weld, President
Eau Claire City Council
Chair Smiar and President Weld,
In advance of special County Board and City Council meetings, I am writing to inform you the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire supports adoption of the communicable disease mask requirement before you.
We find the measure to be sufficiently specific, reasonable, and time-bound, and believe this ordinance will support Eau Claire’s pandemic recovery in the event a statewide mask order ends before June 30, 2021. Our campus has learned first-hand how important face coverings are, and high compliance with our mask mandate made our classrooms some of the safest places in Wisconsin last semester. Should the state mandate end, I fear an uncoordinated approach to mask wearing would drive case increases in our community and only amplify strain on our health care and education systems.
This last year demonstrated that coordinated action is needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have supported the work of the Chippewa Valley Economic Recovery Task Force because individual risky behaviors may lead to outbreaks whose impacts quickly cross organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. Our communities rely on shared infrastructure—from public transportation and grocery stores to testing sites and in-patient care facilities—and inconsistent mask requirements allow for pockets of non-compliance that may affect all other industries.
If this ordinance is not in place and the state chooses to end its mask mandate, essential workers in Eau Claire county will bear the brunt of this impact. Daily, they must choose whether they expose themselves to risk by confronting non-compliant consumers, or whether they minimize risk to themselves and stay silent. Our frontline workers, and our community, deserve the clear guidance and authority of county- and city-wide mask mandates as they support all of us through this pandemic winter.
This ordinance, adopted at both the county and city levels, can contribute to a more uniform and strategic approach to pandemic mitigation while we await the arrival of more vaccine doses. On behalf of UW-Eau Claire, I encourage your support of this data-informed public health ordinance to aid in the Eau Claire area’s recovery from COVID-19.
James C. Schmidt
Members of the Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors
Kathryn Schauf, Eau Claire County Administrator
Members of the Eau Claire City Council
Dave Solberg, City of Eau Claire Interim City Manager
Lieske Giese, Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director
Merey Price, Eau Claire City-County Board of Health Chair