RACINE — The Racine Common Council voted 8-6 in favor of reinstating the city's indoor face mask ordinance amid rising COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant.
The ordinance requires people in the city to wear a mask when inside any public space or riding public transit, taxis or ride-sharing services - just like the previous mask requirement in the city.
All businesses, organizations and non-profits must require employees, customers, visitors and members to wear masks when in public areas and where food is prepared.
Health officials in Racine say the city is experiencing high transmission, and that's when the CDC recommends indoor masking regardless of vaccination status. They said 41.1 percent of the city is fully vaccinated.
"Again, we need to take all mitigation efforts and activities we can to slow down the spread of the delta variant," City of Racine Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox said.
Several council members and at least two speakers in the public comment session expressed their support for reinstating the mask ordinance.
"I think we should be doing everything we can to help alleviate the burden on our hospitals and health care workers," said Jeremy Anders.
"For us to hesitate over a mask requirement, I think we're really behind the ball there," said Alderman CJ Rouse.
Officials said 17 people signed up for public comment, and 11 spoke. Of those, nine said they were opposed to the ordinance.
The meeting was entirely online, but some people showed up to voice their opposition to the ordinance on the steps of City Hall.
"I made a big investment in this community, and I don’t want my potential tenants to come down to say, well, I don’t want to invest in that city when Mount Pleasant is down the road and they're never going to put a mandate in effect," Ken Brown said.
Several council members expressed their concerns about the ordinance, and some cited the influx of calls and emails they've received from people in their districts who don't want mask requirements.
"I strongly reject this based on the fact that, we've gone too far," said Alderman Henry Perez.
"The hateful emails need to stop," said Alderman Jeff Coe. "Just because I vote for something people don't believe in, doesn't make me wrong or them right. People need to start working together or this will never end."
There are exemptions to the ordinance, including when people are sitting at a restaurant, school cafeteria or other areas where you are eating and drinking; children ages 4 years or younger; people who fall in the CDC's exemption category due to medical conditions; for people who are speaking or performing during a public event; for religious reasons; among other exemptions.
The ordinance states business and building owners have the right to refuse service or entry to people not abiding by the mask order. Any person found to be in violation can be fined $25 upon the first conviction, $50 upon the second conviction, and $100 upon the third or subsequent conviction.
Proponents of the mask requirement say it is time to bring back the ordinance due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, led by the more contagious delta variant. They are also following guidance from the CDC, the Wisconsin state health department and the U.S. Surgeon General.
"In addition to being fully vaccinated, wearing a mask or face covering in public is the easiest and most effective way to protect each other and help keep businesses and the
economy open," according to the ordinance.
See the mask mandate below: