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Virus Cases Continue Climb in Eau Claire Co., But No Mask Mandate – Yet

Tom Giffey

Eau Claire County public health officials have once again stopped short of mandating that county residents wear face masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In the latest countywide health order, which goes into effect at midnight Thursday, residents are “strongly encouraged” to wear cloth face coverings when they can’t maintain six feet of distance from others. However, masks are not required under the order, which expires Aug. 5. The latest order is identical to – but supersedes – the previous order, which went into effect July 9.

Meanwhile, a third Eau Claire County resident has died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of virus cases in the county continues to rise, Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese said in an online media briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“Certainly there are many communities that more recently have made (masks) a mandate, and we are following that and recognizing that, but at this point we are pushing hard that it is a very strong recommendation.” –Lieske Giese, Eau Claire City-County Health Department director

As of Wednesday, 409 coronavirus cases had been diagnosed in the county, an increase of 58 from a week earlier and 102 more than two weeks earlier, according to health department statistics. An estimated 346 of those diagnosed with the virus in the county have recovered.

There have been 74 diagnosed cases in Dunn County and 172 in Chippewa County.

Statewide, there have been 44,847 diagnosed cases and 865 deaths. Wisconsin’s caseload grew by 1,117 between Monday and Tuesday – the biggest single-day increase since the pandemic began.

Giese said authorities were notified Wednesday that a third county resident had died as a result of COVID-19. The individual, who was over the age of 65, suffered underlying health conditions, Giese said. The first death in the county attributed to the virus was announced June 22, while a second death was announced Saturday. (In the first case, the person was over the age of 65; in the second case, the deceased was a woman under the age of 50. Both had underlying health problems.)

Like its predecessor, the latest public health order discourages gatherings of more than 50 people, but allows public gatherings of as many as 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors (with physical distancing between people from different households). Public buildings with posted occupancy are required to reduce occupancy to 50%, and public spaces “are required to consider policies that require face mask use by all workers, customers, visitors, and guests.” (See the full order online here and a list of frequently asked questions here.)

Giese applauded local businesses, including large retailers, that have mandated mask usage by customers and employees. She acknowledged that some Wisconsin communities – including the cities of Green Bay, Racine, Madison, and Milwaukee – now require masks in public settings.

“Certainly there are many communities that more recently have made that a mandate, and we are following that and recognizing that, but at this point we are pushing hard that it is a very strong recommendation,” she said.

However, Giese also left the door open for a potential mandate in the future: “We are waiting for some additional information and data and we are working through with the city and county what a potential mandate might look like.”

Wearing face masks, she added, “isn’t an enormous lift for all of us to do. We can fairly easily add that to our routine, at least for right now. And it will help stop the rapid spread of this disease.”


For the latest on the Eau Claire County response to the coronavirus, visit covid19eauclaire.org.