News Wellness

Local Leaders on Masking: Wear One, Be Kind, Don’t Assume, Move On

Tom Giffey, photos by Morgan Burke |

Face masks don't deter enjoyment of seeing the sights in downtown Eau Claire.
Face masks don't interfere with seeing the sights in downtown Eau Claire.

Law enforcement and civic leaders in Eau Claire County have advice for residents getting used to the still-new statewide face mask mandate: Don’t be a jerk.

Well, those aren’t the exact words contained in a joint letter about the coronavirus-driven mandate released Wednesday and signed by six local leaders. But the letter’s signatories encouraged county residents to be understanding of each other instead of confrontational.

In addition to telling folks to wear masks in accordance with Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide order, which went into effect Aug. 1, the letter offers this advice: “If you see someone not wearing a mask, assume they have a medical reason not to. Be kind, remain 6 feet away, and move on.”

“If you see someone not wearing a mask, assume they have a medical reason not to. Be kind, remain 6 feet away, and move on.” –Eau Claire County public officials

However, the letter continues, “If there appears to be a high risk of disease spread from someone not wearing a mask and not keeping physical distance, call the COVID Call Center at 715-831-7425.”

The letter was signed by Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer, Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus, Altoona Police Chief Kelly Bakken, Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters, Altoona City Administrator Mike Golat, Eau Claire County Administrator Kathryn Schauf, and Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese.

“Most people can wear masks in public and it has been shown through research and in practice in this country and in other parts of the world to be effective in slowing the spread of disease,” they wrote.

In a virtual media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Giese reiterated the message.

“Most people can wear masks. We’re asking, if you can, to wear a mask,” she said. “If you see someone that is not wearing a mask, we’re also asking you to be kind and to assume that they are not able to wear a mask. We don’t want an environment in our community where people are in situations that are uncomfortable. And there are some small number of people that can’t wear a mask, so please start with that assumption.”

However, Giese said, if high-risk situations are reported, the health department will follow up on complaints and consider enforcement. “Our goal in all of this is education and follow-up, and assuming that people are leaning in to doing the right thing,” she said. “If necessary, the state order does give us the ability to work with the district attorney’s office and potentially enforce, if that’s necessary.”

She continued: “I am really confident that people in this community can step forward and do the right thing so we keep businesses, and schools, and our community thriving and we don’t have those enormous upticks in disease across the state and frankly across the nation.”

Meanwhile, the countywide COVID-19 Prevention and Control Order was extended for another two weeks, beginning just after midnight Thursday, Aug. 6, through Wednesday, Aug. 19. The new order is nearly identical to the previous one, with a few alterations:

1. Requirements for mass transportation (i.e. buses, commercial vans). When physical distance of 6 ft. cannot be maintained, the following is required:

  • Reduce capacity to 50%.
  • Wear cloth face covering, unless medically unsafe to do so.
  • Buses with set riders should have assigned seats and daily attendance taken (such as school buses).
  • Actively communicate with or screen riders regarding COVID-19-like symptoms prior to boarding.

2. Recommendation to review the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) guidelines for all sport activities, available here:

As with the previous order, public gatherings with as many as 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors are allowed, as long as there is physical distancing between members of different households; however, gatherings larger than 50 are “strongly discouraged.”

As of Wednesday, Giese noted, there have been 531 positive cases of COVID-19 in Eau Claire County. Of those, 86 were estimated to be active cases.

The state Department of Health Services also reported Wednesday that a fourth county resident has died of the disease. Other than the fact the person was under the age of 65, Giese said she didn’t have any further information. Statewide, there have been 970 deaths and 56,940 positive cases as of Wednesday.

Here is the full text of the open letter from county and city officials:

Learn more about local virus-related efforts at the Eau Claire County COVID-19 Information Hub.