By Lea Kopke
GREEN BAY – Starting next Monday, Green Bay residents could be required to wear a mask while inside public spaces under a proposed face covering requirement plan by Mayor Eric Genrich.
Genrich announced the plan during a press conference, which was originally planned to be held outside Green Bay City Hall, but was forced to move inside due to anti-mask protesters, July 20.
The plan, he said, would require face coverings to be worn when inside public buildings, giving exemptions to children under 5-years-old, individuals speaking to an audience, people exercising and those with medical issues which prohibit safe mask use.
“If we want the health of our community to be improved, if we want our economy to be improved and our businesses to be humming again, which I believe we all desire,” Genrich said, “I believe strongly that this is the appropriate action to take.”
Genrich invited several others to the podium to share thoughts on the plan.
This included CEO of Bellin Health Chris Woleske, Green Bay city council member Randy Scannell, Lion’s Mouth Bookstore owner Amy Mazzariello and N.E.W. Community Clinic pediatrician Yolo Diaz.
Each person, he said, represented a different aspect of the community.
Each shared their support and explained the importance masks would have in keeping the community safe during the pandemic.
Diaz said as a pediatrician at a clinic, she works with some of the most vulnerable children – those from low-income families without insurance – and she has seen the negative effects this pandemic has already caused.
After schools shut down, Diaz said she saw increased emotional and financial stress on families, greater learning challenges for students and an increased risk of domestic violence and child abuse.
“We know that schools need to reopen but really, in order for this to be successful and the schools to remain open, the levels of infection in our community would have to have a significant decrease,” she said. “The way the infections are spiking right now this will not happen.”
Diaz said she supports Genrich’s face covering requirement because research has proven masks to be effective in avoiding COVID-19 transmission.
“I think it is up to us adults to take care of our children by wearing a mask,” she said. “Wearing a mask may help us decrease the number of infections in our communities and try to give our children a normal or kind of normal next few months while we hopefully get a vaccine.”
Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health, who was not at the event, said even though local hospitals have not hit capacity, he is concerned for the future weeks as the number of patients continues to increase.
Rai explained the current death rate is not representative of what’s going on today.
“It represents what was going on 60 days ago, when we were still under a stay at home order,” he said. “The death rate 60 to 90 days from today is something that I’m really worried about.”
While he would’ve hoped people wouldn’t need an ordinance to do what’s right for the public, Rai said he believes it’s a good move given the area’s current situation.
“We follow the rules,” he said. “The science is out there for the public, but people aren’t following that, so that’s why an ordinance is needed. It’s unfortunate if it doesn’t pass.”
Genrich said violations of the requirement would be treated like a trespassing violation and enforced by the police.
“If someone is to come into their store and be disruptive and not abide by their policy, they would be able to call our police and report somebody for trespassing,” Genrich said. “It’s going to be incumbent on businesses to recognize what the law is and to ask people to abide by it.”
The Green Bay city council will vote on the plan for a city-wide face covering requirement at its meeting July 21.
Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith failed to return a call for this story.