By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – The mask debate took center stage at the Sept. 15 Brown County Board meeting.
Seven supervisors, a handful of county staff and a few members of the public were masked as a motion to draft a resolution mandating masks inside all county-owned buildings was voted down 6-20.
District 14 Supervisor Joan Brusky’s original communication was sent to the full board by the Human Services Committee with a recommendation to receive and place on file.
Brusky, however, pulled the item and made a motion to direct Corporation Counsel to draft a resolution to require face coverings in all county buildings whenever Brown County is considered to be in an area of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission.
“I’m pulling this, because as a nurse, with a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing, and years of experience in ICUs, community health and other areas of health care, I know firsthand the course of illness,” she said. “I know how disease can spread. I know how it can harm and how it can kill. I also know masks work. I come to you from an area of concern for others and for myself. Masks work.”
District 6 Supervisor Kathy Lefebvre, who voted in favor of a mandate, compared it to requirements already in place.
“We have so many rules and regulations,” she said. “You have to wear your seatbelt when you drive. You have to follow the speed limit. You have to stop at a stop-and-go light. I mean, I could go on and on about all the rules and regulations that we put in. What are they for? Safety. Wearing masks is about safety. I mean, if you don’t care about yourself, that is fine, but you do not have the right to make someone else ill, to maybe make them die… It’s time we do something about this. This is our responsibility.”
District 4 Supervisor Lindsay Dorff, who voted in favor of the motion, said she was conflicted.
Dorff said she agrees with Brusky’s sentiments, but she’s concerned about how a mandate could affect staffing.
“There is some worry from some managers that a mandate would encourage some people to leave employment,” she said. “I know any meeting I go to right now, employment in any department is a struggle. So, looking at this from the perspective of wanting to make sure we are continuing to offer services to the county because we do offer so many important services to the community, I took that warning about how it could affect employment very seriously. So, while my heart is very much with Supervisor Brusky, I’m also concerned about the employment aspect of it as well.”
Others called a mandate an overreach.
“The problem is that we are getting into areas where I feel we are getting into overreach on certain things – the rights of our employees,” District 9 Supervisor Pat Evans said. “Our employees are adults. Our employees make health decisions every day, right? Are we mandating what our employees’ diets are? We don’t do that. Are we mandating how much our employees should be exercising every day, how many steps they are getting? Are we mandating how much alcohol content they should be drinking at night or on the weekends? Are we mandating how they are driving to and from work every day and all of that? Of course not. We don’t do that. Our employees are adults. They make adult decisions and that is what this is about.”
District 17 Supervisor John Van Dyck said he looks at the issue with the same logic as some supervisors had last year regarding his proposal which later failed in a referendum – for oversight of the county’s health officer.
“The argument at the time against it was this group of people here are not health professionals, and we should therefore not be overriding what our county health officer decides to do,” Van Dyck said. “I guess we’ve gotten a lot smarter in the last year, because now we are in position to make these directives, and we don’t have to wait for the county health officer to actually rule. If this is needed, then I’ll trust our county health department, and our county health officer will let us know that, and they will make those determinations because I am still not a health professional and still not any smarter than I was last year. So, I am not quite sure how all of a sudden this board can now make this determination that 12 months ago we weren’t in the position to make.”
This is the second time masking has been discussed at the county level.
Last summer, the topic was up for discussion in the Human Services Committee but ended when a state mandate was imposed.
Chad Weininger, director of administration, said with no action, the county will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which currently recommends indoor mask-wearing, but does not require it.
Weininger said the county has consistently followed the most restrictive model.
“HR, since day one, has been following CDC guidelines, period,” Weininger said. “We always follow the most restrictive. So when the governor had his mask mandate, all departments followed that throughout the county, and when that one subsided, we followed the City of Green Bay and enforced that one. So, if the public health officer requires a masking ordinance, then our departments will follow it.”
As of Wednesday, Sept. 22, the Brown County COVID-19 dashboard shows the county at a very high activity level with a burden rate of 497.8 per 100,000 with a growing trajectory.