Lincoln, Oneida County Sheriff’s Offices among agencies that won’t enforce mask mandate

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

WISCONSIN – The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, July 31 joined the ranks of numerous other law enforcement agencies that said they will not enforce Governor Tony Evers’ mask mandate implemented to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

Sheriffs around the state, including those in Forest, Iron, Langlade, and Vilas counties, made similar declarations following Evers’ July 30 declaration of a public health emergency and issuance of an emergency order requiring individuals to wear face coverings when indoors and not in a private residence, with some exceptions. A release from Evers’ office states the order became effective at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, and will expire on Sept. 28, 2020 or by a subsequent superseding order.

Under the order, Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit, according to the release. The order, however, does set forth exceptions to the requirement, including when an individual is eating, drinking, or swimming. Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that would preclude the wearing of a face covering safely are also exempt from the requirement, the release says.

The governor’s executive and emergency orders come as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to climb.

“Wisconsin is seeing new and significant community spread and increase in cases of COVID-19 which requires that we declare a new public health emergency and require face coverings,” the release states. “Wisconsin has experienced a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the entire state, with 61 of 72 counties (84 percent) representing 96 percent of the state’s population experiencing high COVID-19 activity. All regions of Wisconsin have high COVID-19 activity levels. This is a dramatic increase from where Wisconsin was in June, when only 19 of 72 counties (26%) were experiencing high COVID-19 activity.”

July has seen the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 drastically increase, with an average of 556 new cases each day between July 1 and 7, an average of 764 new cases each day between July 8 and 14 (a 37% increase from the previous week), an average of 890 new cases each day between July 15 and 21 (a 16% increase from the previous week), and an average of 938 new cases each day between July 22 and 26 (a 5% increase from the previous week).

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Ken Schneider said in a release that the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office would not enforce the mandate.

“We ask that people continue to make their own decisions to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Schneider stated. “We also ask that people then respect the individual decisions that people make.”

Schneider asked citizens to respect the rights of private businesses that may require face coverings.

“We will respond to assist businesses in maintaining peace and order in those cases,” Schneider said.

Oneida County Sheriff’s Office

The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office took a more firm stance, saying it will not enforce the order nor respond to “complaints about mask violations.”

“Aside from a belief that this order is in violation of the Constitution which all deputies of Oneida County have sworn an oath to uphold, the Governor’s order outlines numerous reasons why a person may be exempt from wearing a mask,” a release from the Sheriff’s Office stated. “Several of these reasons have to do with medical and mental health conditions. It is not the place of law enforcement to questions (sic) citizens about their medical or mental health thus we will not be enforcing the mask mandate.”

The Sheriff’s Office said it is “right of every citizen to decide what they need to do for their health, welling being, and safety.”

“If you wish to wear a mask, do so,” the release said. “If you have reasons why you cannot wear a mask, then do not wear a mask.”

The Sheriff’s Office asked citizens not to contact the office’s emergency phone lines about “mask violations.”

“We need to keep these lines available for emergency calls,” the release stated.

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